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Subcommittee Seeks Better Health Care for Former Astronauts

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Subcommittee on Space today held a hearing titled Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing, and Treating Former Astronauts. Today’s hearing examined NASA’s existing health care program for current and former astronauts.

Through its Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health program, NASA screens and monitors current astronauts for occupational related injury or disease. However this program does not provide for diagnosis or treatment of those no longer serving, nor for “management” and retired astronauts. Instead these astronauts are eligible for treatment from the Department of Labor or the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is not the best process for the former astronauts or NASA’s developing knowledge base.

Space Subcommittee Chairman Brian Babin (R-Texas): “I believe everyone here wants to make sure we are doing the right things for our astronauts. They put themselves in harm’s way to advance our knowledge of the universe and they bring great pride to our nation. I am proud to say that I represent a great number of these astronauts who call the Houston area home. As a health care professional and as their representative, you could say it is my duty to make sure these folks are taken care of properly.

“But this isn’t simply about addressing a moral and ethical obligation, we receive significant and on-going benefits by providing this care. The long-term health information gained from the treatment of former astronauts will give us a greater understanding of radiation exposure, vison impairment, bone-loss, and many other ailments. This in turn will assist us in developing better monitoring and treatment protocols here on earth for everyone, not just astronauts.”

Witnesses, including former astronauts Captain Chris Cassidy, Captain Scott Kelly and Captain Michael Lopez-Alegria, as well as Dr. Richard Williams, Chief Health and Medical Officer at NASA, and Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University testified that NASA should be given the authority to monitor, diagnose, and treat former astronauts.

Of the known risks associated with human spaceflight, the most common are osteoporosis or loss in bone density, vision impairment and radiation exposure. These problems can manifest themselves long after an astronaut has left federal service.

Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook how dangerous it is and how little we know about the long-term health effects of spaceflight.

“We, as a nation, have a responsibility to ensure that our astronauts, both active and retired, are provided with appropriate monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of spaceflight related injuries and disease.”

For more information about today’s hearing, including the webcast and witness testimony, visit the Committee’s website.

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