What drugs can astronauts take in space?


It is really, really inconvenient to get sick in space.

At least, that’s what I took away from some recent reporting on astronaut microbiomes and zero-gravity surgery robots. Fortunately, few  have actually had to deal with such problems. Here’s a few interesting examples I turned up:

1968: After launch of Apollo 7, mission commander Walter Schirra develops a head cold, which quickly spreads to crew members Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham. On re-entry, the sick astronauts kept their helmets off to try to clear their sinuses. (Mucus doesn’t drain in zero gravity.) Experts now think that the three might have actually had space sickness, the dizziness and nausea commonly experienced by many astronauts. [sources 1, 2, 3]

1970: Fred Haise, the lunar module pilot of Apollo 13, develops a urinary tract infection. Due to the recent explosion of the ship’s oxygen tank, drinking water was in short supply, and Haise’s infection soon led to a fever that he endured throughout the shuttle’s dramatic re-entry. (Ironically, two days before launch, Thomas Mattingly had been pulled from the mission after being exposed to measles.) [1, 2]

1971: The crew of Soyuz 11 — cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov –become the first people to die in space when an equipment malfunction causes the capsule to depressurize. [1, 2]

1971: Astronaut James Irwin shows signs of heart problems while walking on the surface of the moon. A physician on the ground was concerned, and told NASA, “If he were on Earth, I’d have him in the ICU being treated for a heart attack.” The arrhythmia abated a few minutes later. [1, 2]

1985: Utah senator Jake Garn becomes deeply nauseated while aboard the STS-51-D. The Doonesebury comic memorialized this event with “The Garn,” a fictional measuring unit of space sickness. [Packing for Mars]

1987: Cosmonaut Alexander Laveikin, riding aboard the Soyuz TM-2 is forced to return to Earth ahead of schedule when he develops dangerous changes in his heart rhythms. [1, 2]

And here’s a list of some drugs that have been taken into space, based on this study from 2011 that examined pharmaceutical kits flown aboard the ISS. (Amateur sorting by me, as I tried to figure out what was what.)

ANTIBIOTICS: Amoxicillin/clavulanate, Azithromycin, Cefadroxil, Ciprofloxacin, Imipenem/cilastatin, Levofloxacin, Metronidazole, Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim, Mupirocin

ANTIVIRAL: Acyclovir

ANTIFUNGAL: Fluconazole, Clotrimazole

DIURETIC: Furosemide

CARDIAC: Atorvastatin (Lipitor), Metopolol succinate (beta blocker, hypertension)

AMPHETAMINE: Dextroamphetamine

PAIN/FEVER: Ibuprofen

THYROID: Levothyroxin


BONE STRENGTH: Risedronate, Progestin/estrogen?


SLEEP AID: Temazepam


VITAMIN: Nasal cobolamine

SKIN?: Silver sulfadiazine, Triamcinolone

MISC: Lidocaine, Epinephrine

2 Responses to “What drugs can astronauts take in space?”

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