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Adapting Disease Prevention Protocols for Human Spaceflight During COVID-19

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BACKGROUND: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Flight Crew Health Stabilization Program (HSP) was historically implemented to minimize infectious disease transmission to astronauts in the immediate prelaunch period. The first ever commercial application and adaptation of the NASA HSP was implemented during the Crew Demo-2 mission in the time of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This article details and discusses the first commercial implementation and adaptation of the HSP prior to the Crew Demo-2 launch.

METHODS: This is a retrospective descriptive analysis of the application of NASA disease prevention protocols for human spaceflight during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the context of the pandemic, extra precautions added to the HSP included daily symptom surveys completed by Primary Contacts of the crew, COVID-19 RT-PCR testing, and improved quarantine protocols.

RESULTS: Of the 91 SpaceX Primary Contacts who completed a total of 2720 daily symptom surveys prior to launch, 22 individuals (24.2) and 198 surveys (7.3) returned positive for potential symptoms of COVID-19. Two individuals were removed due to symptoms indistinguishable from COVID-19. Through this survey, systematic quarantine, and PCR testing, the Crew Demo-2 mission was successful with no known infectious diseases transmitted.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, the commercial implementation of the NASA Health Stabilization Program by SpaceX with adjustments required during the COVID-19 pandemic was a success, with protocols allowing identification and removal of potentially infectious persons from the program. The principles of the HSP may provide an adequate infectious disease playbook for commercial spaceflight operations going forward.

Petersen E, Pattarini JM, Mulcahy RA, Beger SB, Mitchell MR, Hu YD, Middleton KN, Frazier W, Mormann B, Esparza H, Asadi A, Musk ER, Alter G, Nilles E, Menon AS. Adapting disease prevention protocols for human spaceflight during COVID-19. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2021; 92(7):597602.

Keywords: COVID-19; NASA; disease prevention; health stabilization; human spaceflight

Document Type: Short Communication

Publication date: July 1, 2021

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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