Aerospace Medicine

“Aerospace Medicine concerns the determination and maintenance of the health, safety, and performance of persons involved in air and space travel.” [** Aerospace Medical Association]

Aerospace Medicine, as a broad field of endeavour, offers dynamic challenges and opportunities for physicians, nurses, physiologists, bio-environmental engineers, industrial hygienists, environmental health practitioners, human factors specialists, psychologists, physician assistants, and other professionals. The environments of space and aviation provide significant challenges, such as:

· Microgravity
· Radiation exposure
· G-forces
· Emergency ejection injuries
· Hypoxic conditions

Those working in this discipline are dedicated to enhancing the health, safety, and performance of individuals who will work or travel in these unusual and potentially hazardous environments.

Areas of interest range from space and atmospheric flight to undersea activities. The environments studied cover a wide spectrum extending from the microenvironments of space to the increased pressures of undersea activities.

Increased knowledge of these unique environments of “Spaceship Earth” helps Aerospace Medicine professionals ensure that participants are physically prepared, physiologically safe, and can perform at the highest levels.

 The discipline of Aerospace Medicine encompasses at least the following groups:

· Commercial and Private Pilots
· Cabin Crew
· Military Aircrew
· Air Traffic Controllers
· Passengers
· Astronauts
· Space Tourists

The discipline involves not only assessments to check the health of these groups to ensure that they are safe to travel  but also supports the fitness of these individuals and their return to fitness following major illnesses.

Aerospace medicine is also involved in research into air and space travel to ensure that those involved can perform their duties and fly safely, and without any harmful effects to their immediate or long term health.

The health of commercial pilots, private pilots, cabin crew and air traffic controllers is closely monitored through the use of regular physical and psychological assessments performed by specially trained and appointed doctors who are called Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs). These doctors are trained and appointed by National Aviation Authorities who operate under rules, regulations and guidance issued by legally appointed bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation, (ICAO), European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), the United Kingdom Civil Aviation  Authority (UK CAA), the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia (CASA) and the Federal Aviation Authority in the USA (FAA).

In most countries doctors wishing to become AMEs must apply to their relevant National Aviation Authority and undergo training courses in Aviation Medicine and pass appropriate examinations. Regular refresher training and re-examination is also mandatory. Once appointed as an AME, only private pilots are assessed but following further more advanced training the AME can be permitted to assess commercial pilots.

Military aviation involves special physiological and psychological problems, and military aerospace medicine practitioners are involved in selection, medical certification, physiological training courses, as well as research and advisory activities. Military doctors involved in supporting aircrew have special training and are in some countries called Flight Surgeons (although they do not perform surgery). 

Passenger health is initially the responsibility of the passengers own medical adviser who can seek further information and knowledge from a variety of sources which are freely available on the Internet. Several of the world’s major airlines also have access to doctors trained in the field of Aerospace Medicine who can advise practitioners who are less familiar with the health issues of aviation or world-wide travel. 

Space tourism is a new fledgling branch of Aviation Medicine and some aviation medicine practitioners are being specially trained to assess and monitor the health of those individuals wishing to travel in space. This is a rapidly expanding field with an exciting but largely unknown future.

Further information can be obtained from the European Society of Aerospace Medicine who can be found at ‘contact us’ on this web-site.

Dr Martin Hudson