The space health industry can seem challenging to enter, but there are many paths for students, established professionals, and everyone in between to explore their passions and interests. This industry has grown from primarily government expanding to now include more private companies involved in space health, with new, fresh perspectives increasing innovation and advancing human space exploration like never before.
Students with an interest in space health should explore topics of importance and determine what area of space health they are interested in. This is crucial because it can make conversations with connections you make more purposeful and help you get the most out of the time you spend. Start with passive information gathering through science journalism or popular podcasts like Science Friday and Science Magazine's podcast in collaboration with AAAS. Then take the time to explore sites like NASA, NASA Human Research Program (HRP), the NASA taskbook, scientific journals, and more to see what you enjoy learning about.
When you’ve determined the area of space health you’re interested in, reach out and make new connections. Find the people who are doing the type of research you want to do or that inspire you, introduce yourself, and make a connection. Reaching out can seem intimidating, but many of these professionals want you to succeed! Networking can go a long way in any industry. Remember to draw on your earlier exploration of existing information to ask questions when you reach out to a connection.
The hard sciences are not the only way to contribute to supporting human spaceflight. In addition to an academic route, opportunities through government organizations and private corporations are also viable options, as both offer internships in a variety of fields including science and research, engineering, finance, communications, and more. Virtual work may be an accessible asset to these opportunities. Recent graduates can work with organizations that perform contract work related to space or space health with shared interests.
Ph.D. Candidates and Postdocs
Space health research focuses on the five stressors impacting the human body in space: radiation, isolation/confinement, distance from Earth, the gravitational field(s) variance(s), and hostile/closed environments. Ph.D. candidates that are interested in space health but not currently connected to it can find ways to apply their current work to space health through an understanding of these stressors and innovate upon their own discoveries. Changing your field of study isn’t necessary, instead incorporate the work you currently do into space health.
Postdocs can investigate fellowships that offer funding for space-health related work. For example, TRISH offers a postdoctoral fellowship to early career scientists with research that can mitigate health risks associated with spaceflight and improve human performance. Beyond postdoc fellowships, postdocs can work on projects related to space health in labs that are TRISH or NASA-funded. Similarly to Ph.D. candidates, postdocs that have active research that is relevant to space health can also apply their work to the field without being in a TRISH or NASA-funded lab.
More training or internships opportunities can be found through NASA centers across the country and academic laboratory connections. Finally, connecting with the space health field can be improved through attending space life sciences focused conferences. The digital age draws us closer through online platforms – utilize these in your search and to reach out to people with similar work.
The Clinical Pathway
When spaceflight was in its nascent stage, the intent behind space medicine was to send individuals at peak health into space. Over the course of developing the space program and the increase in commercial space missions, this has shifted to enabling participants to travel in space despite possible health concerns. This will reflect how clinical practitioners work in space medicine in the coming years.
The traditional pathway to space medicine used to be specializing as a flight surgeon after residency in internal medicine. Fellowship options for aerospace medicine are important training, but other types of fellowships that provide exposure to practicing medicine in extreme conditions are strong alternatives. Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Space Medicine offers a Space Medicine Pathway for students to learn more and get engaged in the space medicine community.
The expansion of space into the private sector has increased the number of alternate pathways to take, making all healthcare providers more valuable and necessary in the field, including allied health professionals and nurses. As more people are projected to visit space, there will be a greater need clinical providers to insure that space travelers of the future maintain their health in space.
It can be challenging to break into the space industry in the United States as an international trainee or professional. Although each funding solicitation may have specific requirements, typically, TRISH and NASA funding is awarded to institutions not to individuals, this allows employees of U.S. based institutions to apply regardless of their citizenship status. In addition, look into private companies focusing on commercial spaceflight either in the United States or abroad as well as opportunities from other countries including your home country! Space is steadily increasing in international collaborations, and research training or professional careers in the space industry are growing at an exciting pace.
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Finding an entry point into this diverse and changing field will look different for everyone, but one common theme is utilizing networking: establishing connections in the industry and maintaining them. Making connections in-person through conferences and professional development events is one of the best ways to connect, but virtual options can make networking more accessible with the increased use of social media and online platforms, like LinkedIn, which are useful tools offering insight into professional organizations and bringing new professionals together.
The space health field needs innovative ideas and expertise that comes from new perspectives, so be assured that a place for you exists in this community.
Utilize the resources below for more space health information, including TRISH career and funding opportunities.