First aid in space (german interview)

On their missions, astronauts are very far away: from Earth, from their families – and also from doctors. So what happens when astronauts in space get sick? A space doctor at ESA reports.

Always stay on the ground
Space doctor: that sounds quite literally quite out of the ordinary. In fact, however, the radiologist Damann himself remains on the ground.

Nevertheless, very few doctors get as close to outer space as he does, because there are only a handful of space doctors, the 56-year-old explains.

The 25-member team includes three doctors, as well as psychologists, physiotherapists, sports scientists, engineers and IT specialists. Or – to use the spaceman jargon – on board.

Just like on earth, you need protective equipment, medicine, bandages and aids.

Not a doctor for miles around – in times of a shortage of doctors, a phrase that many patients say they know. Even between Volker Damann and his patients there are sometimes a staggering 400 kilometers between them.

Damann is a space doctor with the European Space Agency ESA. He heads the medical department at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, where astronauts are trained for their missions in space.

This training includes not only the specialist technical knowledge required for experiments on board the International Space Station (ISS), but also intensive medical preparation for the stresses and strains of a space flight and a several-month stay in weightlessness.

At present, the medical department is looking after six astronauts who are preparing for upcoming missions or who are already on board the International Space Station (ISS). “That sounds great at first: three doctors and a whole team of specialists on six patients,” says Damann.

But after all, the care of these patients of a somewhat different kind goes far beyond the usual doctor-patient contact.