A Healthy Job.
What would it be like to have a job where your employer wants to keep you healthy and is willing to pay to ensure it? Being an astronaut was like that. November is my birthday month which means it’s time to go to Houston for my annual physical exam. NASA likes to keep track of any health effects of spaceflight, so I am invited back each year to be tested.
I applied for the program in 1977 and went to the Johnson Space Center for a week of assessments and interviews. I was a physician in training at the time and couldn’t imagine how NASA could possibly spend a week figuring out whether I was physically sound enough to fly in space.
Just as it was for the Mercury astronauts (as comically portrayed in both the book The Right Stuff and the movie based on it), NASA checked every system. Some of the tests were unusual, like assessing the flexibility of all my joints. There was a brain wave test and a peek at my colon and the back of my eyeballs. What in the world was all of that for? Two reasons. The first was to make certain there were no problems that would make it impossible for me to function in space. The other was to ensure I would be healthy for many years, so it would be worth the thousands (or millions?) of dollars it would cost to train me to be a good crewmember.
Once selected, I had access 24/7 to the flight medicine clinic and the flight surgeons (doctors trained in the medical aspects of flight). Astronauts had their own workout facilities, athletic clothes, and shoes. Physical exams and medicine were free. If I suffered an injury or unusual illness, I saw specialists at NASA’s expense.
Did we have specific fitness or exercise requirements? No, not beyond being able to pass a physical each year and perform any job assigned (like a spacewalk in the bulky suits). But imagine the peer pressure and the competiveness of a bunch of healthy people vying for space flights! I soon became the fittest I had ever been and developed a life-long habit of regular workouts.
To date, there have been no long-term problems from Shuttle flights. I am fitter now than when I applied to be an astronaut. Initial good health, continued attention to fitness, annual physical exams to catch problems early, and preventive care have kept me in good shape in many ways thanks to my job at NASA.
Stay healthy, my friends!
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