A program that focuses on the scientific study of the physiological processes involved in low and high-altitude flight and living in space and related low-pressure and low-gravity environments, including sensorimotor interactions, response mechanisms, and the effects of injury, disease, and disability. Includes instruction in anatomy, molecular and cellular basis of muscle contraction, fuel utilization, neurophysiology of motor mechanics, systemic physiological responses (respiration, blood flow, endocrine secretions, and others), fatigue and exhaustion, systemic environmental pathologies, muscle and body training, physiology of specific exercises and activities, physiology of injury, and the effects of disabilities and disease.
Careers in aerospace physiology and medicine focus on understanding and mitigating the physical effects of air and space travel.
There are certain issues that arise when humans fly; aerospace and aviation medicine exists to identify those issues and iron them out to ensure safer working conditions for flight crews. Aerospace physiologists are responsible for helping pilots and aircraft personnel to prepare for the physical effects of high altitude work. Some aerospace medics work with astronauts, helping to prepare them for space travel. These workers are often called upon to screen potential flight crews for conditions that could impact their work in the air, which can include asthma, color blindness, and diabetes, among others.
In addition to phenomena like G-force, rapid acceleration, and radiation exposure, flight crews face a unique risk of psychological distress due to the conditions of their work. This can be an issue for astronauts in particular, who sign on to live and work in near isolation in an enclosed space in an extreme environment; researchers look for ways to make this experience easier on both the mind and body. Most long-term aviation and aerospace pilots are required to complete training programs designed to strengthen their faculties prior to takeoff. Researchers in aerospace medicine also work with engineers and other scientists to develop safety features for aircrafts and plan for medical emergencies.
Work in aerospace physiology and medicine may include...
- Screening potential flight crews for health conditions
- Designing training programs for flight personnel
- Developing flight safety measures and protocols
- Examining flight personnel upon launch and return
- Assessing the effects of gravity variance and pressure on the body
For most civilians, the chances of running into someone in aerospace medicine is low; a majority of the available jobs in the field are with military and government agencies like the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy. They work from bases, military hospitals, and aircrafts. NASA in particular employs a number of aerospace medical experts and physiologists in research and training roles; these jobs are often prestigious. Commercial airlines sometimes employ aviation medical personnel as a safety measure for their workers, and they are often present at flight schools. As space travel becomes more common, this field is expected to grow.
The educational path to a career in aerospace medicine looks different for everyone. Some training personnel enter the military with a high school diploma but find that they have a passion for flight and wind up climbing the ranks; others attend traditional Associate's or Bachelor's degree programs and become nurses who treat flight workers; others complete undergraduate degrees in biology and go on to medical school, where they may focus on the effects of high-altitude, low gravity environments in their residencies. Some looking to conduct research on bodies in flight pursue PhDs; in practice, most researchers have at least a Master's degree in physiology, and many will have completed flight training or simulations themselves. Certain military agencies require their medical personnel to log flight hours as part of their training, which can be an exciting perk. For those who want to boost their credentials, there are certifications available in aerospace medicine which can make a qualified candidate extra valuable.
If you're at home in the air and want to ensure the health and safety of flight crews, you might want to pursue a career in aerospace medicine or physiology.
For more information, please follow the links below:
- The Aerospace Medical Association is the largest, professional organization in the fields of aerospace medicine and human performance.
- The Federal Aviation Administration aims to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.
- The US Air Force Careers page is a good resource for those interested in aviation in the armed forces.