Broadcast 3694 Dr. Shawna Pandya

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Guest:  Dr. Shawna Pandya; Topics:  Human spaceflight medical issues for orbital space tourism, space settlement, suborbital flight, technology, informed consent, risks and mitigation progress to date.

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We welcomed Dr. Shawna Pandya back to the program to discuss human spaceflight medicine for orbital space tourism as she is the Medical Director for the Orbital Assembly Corp, a company that has been featured multiple times on The Space Show this year.  Dr. Pandya is a practicing MD and was actually on call as an ER doctor at a rural Canadian hospital at the time of our interview.  We started our discussion by asking our guest about her work with the Orbital Assembly Corp and what is being done for human adaptation to orbital space tourism, the goal of her company.  Our guest talked about human body changes in space, microgravity changes, radiation, fluid shifts, ocular and vision changes and more as we are designed for a 1G environment but space is not that.

We delved deeper into space tourism medical issues and the progress of the research to mitigate, control, or even eliminate the risks or concerns.  In the process of doing this, Dr. Pandya talked about the Orbital Assembly Corp Gravity ring which would be partial gravity, not full gravity at 1 G.  Our guest also pointed out that much more has been discovered about human medical issues for spaceflight since even 2019 when blood clots in the jugular vein came to the attention of the spaceflight community.  One point made by our guest was that while the medical concerns for long duration spaceflight are serious, Orbital Assembly Corp was mostly concerned on a shorter time scale of about 30 days, the most likely maximum time a customer would be in space using their facilities.  The shorter time frame for having a presence in space was thought to be a mitigating factor on its own. 

Dr. Pandya offered up a distinction with exploration spaceflight from other shorter term types of human spaceflight.  The exploration spaceflight was a much bigger risk for muscle and bone loss issues, radiation, ocular and vision issues and more.  In fact our guest listed multiple issues that they would be concerned with for their space tourism goals.

Fremont John called to talk about space settlement and the need for 1G for children and families for permanently living in space.  Shawna said that much more data was needed, John asked about rodent centrifuge experiments, then he asked about the Voyager Station project of the company spinning at 1G. As we understand it, Voyager station will only spin at partial gravity at first. An interesting side discussion came about when I commented about the amount of time and money it takes to do the research, that in the meantime if the industry was put on hold for more information, it would be a perpetual hold so what about just going to space and finding out what happens with people real time.  Our guest brought up ethical issues, informed consent issues but I kept pushing for a way around this maybe through advanced technology as well as practical spaceflight.  Listen to the discussion for the conclusion.

Listener Jack sent in a note about going to a space tourism hotel but being shy about bathroom habits.  Our guest talked about this problem, how they were trying to make the space bathroom more comfortable, then she commented on ISS astronauts being highly functioning people with survival training and a toughening up training.  This will not be the case for most tourists so elimination shyness and other issues around bodily functions may prove problematic for some people.  Shawna talked about camping experiences, hiking, and other activities that compel people to shed their bodily function hang-ups as a parallel to human spaceflight. While this was a bit of a surprise question and topic for me, I thought it was interesting and Shawna's reply was also interesting.  If someone is planning on an extended visit to space in some sort of space hotel, this problem is going to have to be handled before getting on the rocket. 

Later in the discussion, Shawna talked about the medical clinic and services that would be available on their space hotel.  She mentioned the top 100 medical conditions list and how decisions would have to be made for treating in space or getting the patient quickly back to Earth.  Evacuating a sick or injured tourist would have be part of the emergency plan for the facility because depending on the approach decided, that would determine the clinic facilities, the onboard medical kit and the onboard required medical staff.  By the way, these types of issues have yet to be decided.

SpaceX and Mars came up as exploration class trips along with visits to the Moon.  Shawna did talk some about the SpaceX human factors work and mentioned their Chief of Medical Operations as being a very qualified person to be working these problems.  Related topics that were addressed included genetic modification for long duration spaceflight plus psychological issues.  Once again the topic of bypassing research and testing in favor of technology came up.  Shawna talked about human enhancement plus ways to hack the system without trying to bypass the needed research.  She mentioned hibernation, faster speeds to the destination, teleporting, the use of avatars.  Our guest then offered up her list of the top five human spaceflight medical risks.  Please comment on this by posting on our blog for this show. and the

Listener Lana from Atlanta asked about suborbital medical risks.  Shawna talked about the individual flight profile of the vehicle but said it was short. That said, she mentioned other influencing factors such as flight delays and the delay impact on tourist medical issues.  Shawna referenced centrifuge studies carried out in Texas which did suggest very little in the way of flight profile problems but a possibility for psychological issues.  Our guest then offered us her summary for this discussion which highlighted genetics, technology, 3D printing, AI, virtual reality, and possible issues returning to Earth.

Please post your comments/questions for Dr. Shawna Pandya on our blog.  She can be reached through me at The Space Show address, her own website at and through the Orbital Assembly Corp website.




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23 May 2021 Dr. Shawna Pandya
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