Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 17

Submission from Dr Philip J Scarpa, Manager, Medical Operations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Kennedy Space Center

  Please note that the views expressed are mine and not necessarily those of NASA or the United States Government.


  This letter informs the Science and Technology Committee of the efforts in UK Space Medicine by Drs Fong and Calder; informs on the growing interest in Space Medicine training and a new national conference; provides an example of a space medicine related research collaboration; and highlights the formation and efforts of the new UK Space Medicine Association. There are clear benefits in the support of space medicine research and manned space flight toward the UK science and technology base, medical care, and encouragement of youth.

  1.  I commend the review of the Science and Technology Committee concerning Space activities and wish to inform the Committee about the importance of Space Medicine and Space Medicine activities within the United Kingdom. Space Medicine is the field of medicine involved in the study and treatment of the changes to astronauts in space flight and other space related health risks. Space Medicine topics include astronaut bone loss, muscle loss, radiation exposure, heart and blood vessel deconditioning, anemia, decreased immune system, kidney stones, mental health, toxic exposures, decompression sickness, occupational injuries, and trauma. Many of these changes have direct application to terrestrial diseases and conditions such as osteoporosis, muscular dystrophy, cancer, heart disease, blood dyscrasias, AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, emergency and trauma care. The NASA-Kennedy Space Center in Florida, United States, conducts Space Medicine education programs on site at the Kennedy Space Center. The training includes lectures, tours, and participation in medical operations involving launching and landing of the space shuttle and its astronauts. A similar program exists in Houston, Texas. There has been an increasing interest in the last decade by British student physicians to attend these NASA training programs. There are many more applicants than positions available, and the talent, seriousness and dedication of the UK applicants make it more difficult every year to choose among them. Having completed their NASA training, many return to Britain and have actively continued to try to develop space medicine within the UK One particular graduate, Dr Kevin Fong, has been instrumental in a continued professional pursuit of this field. He has been provided the opportunity by the interest of many of his countrymen to speak in several media concerning the importance of space medicine and manned space flight. With every year the interest seems to grow within the UK The interest is not frivolous, but seriously placed in the knowledge of well-founded technological and medical benefits and in the encouragement of the youth and its hope for the future. With this growing interest, Dr. Fong has formed the Centre for Aviation, Space, and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE) based at the University College-London to provide training in space medicine, the first ever in the UK NASA now recognizes CASE as the leading center of authority for space medicine in the UK and as such allows CASE to conduct a national competition to select the applicants to the NASA program. The quality of young physicians applying and being selected to attend our program are of the highest caliber and graduates continue to return to the UK to become leaders in the aerospace medical field. Another NASA training graduate, Dr. Alyson Calder, an Anesthesiologist at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, has organized the first ever space medicine conference in the UK Now in its third year, the conference provides an annual national focus for space medicine research and education and a forum for the exchange of ideas on space medicine within the UK This year the level of quality of the conference has attracted the interest of researchers from outside the UK to share their research. Presentations ranged from university-based research, to high technology, to business endeavors and potential space age medical therapeutics. The UK-based Virgin Galactic, a branch of Virgin Atlantic, presented medical issues and plan toward their pursuit of becoming the first commercial space flight enterprise in the history of the world. Their long-term business plan includes not only space tourism but a more profitable and marketable regular passenger service using spaceplanes to points around the world traversed in a fraction of today's time durations.

  2.  I have worked with Dr Fong and several of his UK colleagues in the development of a Portable Intravenous Fluid Production Device. Intravenous fluids are precious liquids that are delivered into the veins of a needing patient. Such fluids may be required in lifesaving medical care. The capability to have this from a portable device is an important technology for successful spaceflights in the near future. This technology also has tremendous potential application for the military and for medical relief efforts around the world. In essence, this technology would be useful in areas where clean water or sterile water necessary for injection were not readily available or cost prohibitive. This is an example of the kind of space-based research and technology collaboration that can occur between the UK and other countries and is worth UK governmental support.

  3.  Over the last decade, as Director of the Medical Education Program at the NASA-Kennedy Space Center, I am happy to say that several UK physicians early in their careers heeded my advice and rather than trying to obtain a position in the US returned home to the UK to provide their talents and skills to their own country and to encourage their countrymen to realize the benefits of space medicine research and human space flight. Recently, many of these individuals have coordinated their efforts and formed a group entitled The UK Space Medicine Association, the first ever in the UK. Although the new UK Space Medicine Association is under funded, many efforts now are being unified, space medicine research coordinated, and space medicine education/guidance and expertise within the UK provided. This new Association has the endorsement of the Aerospace Medical Association, the premier international association for aerospace medicine in the world. With this the UK is now "on the map" so-to-speak for international recognition and exchanges in science and technology.

  4.  As an employee of NASA, as a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, and as a former President of the US-based Space Medicine Association, it is my personal opinion that it seems very inappropriate for a country of great stature and leadership in the world such as the United Kingdom to not participate in human space flight nor in space medicine research. The world is building an International Space Station, then soon to return to the Moon, and then on to Mars. The UK should be a part of that human destiny.

October 2006

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