As the world gears up to commemorate and rejoice the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for humans” 50 years back, researchers at the Mayo Clinic are looking to the future.
From the start of the space program in the 1950s and prior to aviation research during World War II, the Mayo Clinic made an important contribution to medical space research. The Mayo Clinic is now well positioned to play a vital role in the development of space medicine while the United States is preparing for a possible return to the moon half a century after the first steps of the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.
“Historically, the Mayo Clinic has been directly connected with aerospace medicine,” said MD, director of aerospace medicine at the Mayo Clinic campus in Arizona, Jan Stepanek. “The former Mayo staff set up the first rudimentary astronaut corps tests and Mayo researchers worked extensively on lunar and spacecraft missions. Our involvement dates back to the beginning of the US space program and continues to this day.”
The development of commercial space travel has created new opportunities for new discoveries and development for space medicine. Dr. Stepanek is the lead author of a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine which states that space medicines must adapt to a time when commercial space companies play a greater role.
“Civil space flight is a new frontier and, as a frontier, there is a paradigm shift of highly qualified and unusually capable astronauts to the general public,” said Dr. Stepanek. “There are many strangers and reasons to be careful.”
The arrival of civilian space movements, but also fast-growing commercial projects and discussions about NASA’s resumption of moon-based missions over the next decade, will open new avenues for research and development medical discovery, says Dr. Stepanek. And, he says, it is essential that space exploration progresses.