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Subcommittee Discusses Healthcare for Former Astronauts

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

Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing titled, “Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing, and Treating Former Astronauts.” The purpose of this hearing was to discuss potential development of a statutory change that would allow the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA) to perform comprehensive care for active and former astronauts.

According to NASA, medical experts have established that an association exists between human spaceflight and the increased risk of developing conditions such as cataracts, reduced visual acuity, and orthopedic/musculoskeletal injuries. However, because of the small number of U.S. astronauts who have flown in space and the corresponding small data set currently available on the health impacts of astronaut exposure to long duration flights, characterizing those risks is a major challenge for NASA and for its future human exploration plans.

Ranking Member Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said in her opening statement, “Health risks during long duration flights include both short-term health consequences as well as potential long-term health conditions that may arise months and sometimes years after an astronaut’s service. This is a problem. Because of the small number of U.S. astronauts who have flown in space, and the corresponding small data set currently available on astronaut exposure to long duration flights, characterizing those risks is a major challenge for NASA. However, if we are to go to Mars, as I have strongly advocated, mitigating these health risks is critical. But we also need to ensure that the risks NASA’s astronauts take are recognized and addressed by the American people.

“While active astronauts receive comprehensive health care, former astronauts do not. This needs to change. We need to ensure that care is provided for all of our NASA astronauts, not just those who are on active status.

“Providing ongoing medical care for active and former astronauts will give NASA the needed insight to enable earlier detection and treatment of any potential medical problems that could result from human spaceflight. It will also provide NASA with the data that are needed to help mitigate against health risks related to future human space exploration.”

Witnesses and Members discussed the importance of expanding surveillance data on former astronauts, and the ethical issues and responsibilities of caring for astronauts who have accepted significant risks to advance human exploration.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her statement, “Increased risk of cancer, musculoskeletal conditions, and ocular conditions are just a few of the known health concerns related to human spaceflight. But there is still much that we are learning and need to learn about the potential effects of space on the human body and on human health. Congress has acted to ensure that others we have put in harm’s way, such as those who have served in the military, receive lifetime healthcare. It is time we do the same for NASA astronauts.”

Witnesses:

· Dr. Richard Williams, Chief Health and Medical Officer, NASA
· Captain Chris Cassidy, United States Navy (USN); Chief, Astronaut Office, NASA
· Captain Scott Kelly (USN, Ret.), Former Astronaut, NASA
· Captain Michael Lopez-Alegria (USN, Ret), President, Association of Space Explorers-USA; Former Astronaut, NASA
· Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics; Chairman, Committee on the Ethics Principles and Guidelines for Health Standards for Long Duration and Exploration Spaceflights, Board on Health Sciences Policy, National Academies of Sciences


Please visit our website: http://democrats.science.house.gov

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