Estimating medical risk in human spaceflight.


NASA and commercial spaceflight companies will soon be retuning humans to the Moon and then eventually sending them on to Mars. These distant planetary destinations will pose new risks-in particular for the health of the astronaut crews. The bulk of the evidence characterizing human health and performance in spaceflight has come from missions in Low Earth Orbit. As missions last longer and travel farther from Earth, medical risk is expected to contribute an increasing proportion of total mission risk. To date, there have been no reliable estimates of how much. The Integrated Medical Model (IMM) is a Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) Monte-Carlo simulation tool developed by NASA for medical risk assessment. This paper uses the IMM to provide an evidence-based, quantified medical risk estimate comparison across different spaceflight mission durations. We discuss model limitations and unimplemented capabilities providing insight into the complexity of medical risk estimation for human spaceflight. The results enable prioritization of medical needs in the context of other mission risks. These findings provide a reasonable bounding estimate for medical risk in missions to the Moon and Mars and hold value for risk managers and mission planners in performing cost-benefit trades for mission capability and research investments.






Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Antonsen, Erik L, Jerry G Myers, Lynn Boley, John Arellano, Eric Kerstman, Binaifer Kadwa, Daniel M Buckland, Mary Van Baalen, et al. (2022). Estimating medical risk in human spaceflight. NPJ microgravity, 8(1). p. 8. 10.1038/s41526-022-00193-9 Retrieved from

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Daniel Buckland

Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Dr. Buckland is an Attending Physician at Duke University Hospital Emergency Department. He is also the Director of the Duke Acute Care Technology Lab (DACTL) where he leads research in developing technology for the diagnosis and treatment of acute disease in data science and robotics projects. Dr Buckland oversees several PhD, Masters, and Undergraduate engineer researchers as their primary advisor, as well as manages collaborative research projects between clinicians and engineering students. His work at DACTL also involves studying how advancements in technology affect the healthcare system. In addition, Dr. Buckland is the Deputy Chair of the Human System Risk Board of the Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer via an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement with NASA, where he determines the human system risk of spaceflight and how standards, countermeasures, and mission design can mitigate risk.

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