Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sex, Death and Other Ethical Dilemmas In Outer Space

Notwithstanding the bizarre recent news story of the diaper-wearing love-crazed astronaut, Lisa M. Nowak, there are apparently serious ethical issues that arise out of long-term space travel and they have found their way into the popular media because of the recent release of a NASA document on crew health obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In New Scientist magazine's (one of my favorites!) Space Blog:
"Some of the issues include determining when to 'pull the plug' on astronauts who become deathly ill and are using up scarce onboard resources, and whether to do genetic tests to select astronauts for the long trips. "The idea that we will always choose a person's well-being over mission success, it sounds good, but it doesn't really turn out to be necessarily the way decisions always will be made," says Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania and a NASA advisor. Yikes.The US has never had to deal with any major health crises in space, but it has had experience with them in extreme environments on Earth. In March 1999, for example, physician Jerri Nielsen discovered a lump in her breast while she was stationed in Antarctica. The lump was cancerous, but she could not leave to get medical care because it was too dangerous for planes to land at the South Pole during the six-month long night that is the Antarctic winter. Medical supplies were air-dropped to her in July and finally in October she was flown to safety. That story sends shivers down my spine..." Rest of the story here.

And from the Discovery Channel: "How do you get rid of the body of a dead astronaut on a three-year mission to Mars and back?
When should the plug be pulled on a critically ill astronaut who is using up precious oxygen and endangering the rest of the crew? Should NASA employ DNA testing to weed out astronauts who might get a disease on a long flight?

And should sex in space be considered a health issue or behavorial issue?

And in funny twist of serendipity, the tv show Bones, whose main character is a forensic anthropologist, last night's episode was about what lengths astronauts would go to get back into outer space (including experimental surgery and treatment).

This and more from latest tv drama, Space: The Final Frontier -- oh, wait, that's Star Trek... hmmm, maybe one more Star Trek series in the making...

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