*This post originally appeared on The PediaBlog on September 28, 2015.
Do astronauts need to get flu shots too? Marina Koren knows one who does:
Wait, why does someone need a flu shot in space?
Astronauts can indeed get sick in space, but that’s not why Scott Kelly got the seasonal vaccine. Kelly’s identical brother Michael, who is on Earth, is getting a shot, too, and NASA will take blood samples from both to compare how their systems respond to the vaccination in two extremely different environments. The data will help scientists better understand how to keep astronauts healthy in orbit, and could potentially lead to the development of treatments for arthritis, diabetes, and other immune system-related diseases.
Kudos to Scott for sticking a needle into his own arm.
Jeffrey Kluger explains why this science experiment is so important:
The astronaut who just got his shot is Scott Kelly, who is midway through a full year away from the planet. In space, the immune system can grow far less effective than it is on Earth. Away from the swirl of pathogens it encounters every day on terra firma, it can “unlearn” the immunities it had previously known, as Dr. Emmanuel Mignot of Stanford University, a mission scientist for the year in space project, puts it. “The immune system needs to be challenged,” he explains.
That can mean trouble when you’re floating in an enclosed space station. While the controlled environment of a spacecraft may reduce the chances of a flu or other infection getting loose, on the off chance an astronaut did carry up a bug from Earth, it could have a severe impact on the entire, immunocompromised crew. Such a scenario would be bad enough when the astronauts are in low Earth orbit and only hours away from coming home. An on-board epidemic during a deep space mission to Mars or elsewhere could be even more dangerous. And there’s no certainty about how well the crews’ immune systems will regain their strength when they do return from space.
Kelly sent out an image on Instagram with the caption: “Gave myself a flu shot in space today for @ISS research. Your turn…”
Watch a video of Scott Kelly self-administering a flu shot in space here!