How NASA Astronauts Would Survive a Coronavirus Outbreak in Space

Our bodies' reactions are different in Space than on Earth, so astronauts have to take different precautions.
Fabienne Lang
NASA astronauts wear face masks when opening the Dragon capsule sent from EarthNASA

As the coronavirus advances across Earth it's interesting to find out what would happen if such a virus were to spread in Space.

There have been times when NASA astronauts have fallen ill aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which has demonstrated how the human body reacts differently in Space than on Earth. 

Falling sick in Space

It doesn't happen often, but when an astronaut falls sick in Space it's a different story than when it happens on Earth. 

For instance, back in 1968 during Apollo 7 the crew caught a cold most likely from Commander Wally Schirra who went on board with a mild cold. The impact was much more significant than on Earth, and the team ran out of medication, tissues, and refused to wear their helmets when reentering Earth's atmosphere. 

That was a while ago, though, so nowadays there are pre-flight quarantines to ensure any illnesses are dealt with before heading up to Space, for instance. 

When you launch off into Space your immune system changes because of changing stress hormone levels. Even if an astronaut is deemed to have a "good immune system" on Earth, they could be more susceptible to allergies and illnesses up in Space. 

Moreover, viral illnesses like the flu or the coronavirus could be even more easily transmittable in zero gravity. As Jonathan Clark, a former crew surgeon for NASA's Space Shuttle program said "The absence of gravity precludes particles settling down, so they stay suspended in the air and could be more easily transmitted. To prevent this, compartments are ventilated and the air HEPA filters would remove particles."


Adding to this, dormant viruses have a tendency to react to the stresses of spaceflight and reactivate in Space. With even less good news to share, antibiotics may be less effective in Space as well.

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However, there are ways of handling the issue, as Clark stated "There are antiviral medications that could be used to prevent viral spread, much as has been considered for the terrestrial viral epidemics."

Ultimately, viruses would spread more easily up in Space due to the environment, and treatment may work differently up there as well. Quarantine is still an option, even with small quarters it's possible to do so on the ISS.

That said, it's hard to know exactly what would happen if such a viral outbreak such as the coronavirus were to spread amongst NASA astronauts up in Space. However, as Clark has mentioned, astronauts would most likely follow similar procedures, like quarantine, that we follow down on Earth.

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