Have a Safe Trip!

By Dirk Hanson 04/21/11

According to tests by NASA, medicines and other drugs die an early death in outer space.

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Not a great idea to get sick on the space station.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

You know you’ve always wondered:  What would it be like to take medicine...in space? NASA has discovered, to its dismay, that crucial medications needed for travel to Mars, or for life on the international space station, degrade much more quickly in space than they do on earth. Of 35 medications NASA tested against matched control drugs kept at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, only nine met current potency standards after spending from 13 days to 28 months in boxes on the International Space Center, 220 miles away from earth. Common drugs like Tylenol, amoxycillin, and dextroamphetamine could become unusable well before the expiration dates, said the authors of a study in the AAPS Journal, a pharmaceutical research publication. (Yes, it’s a poorly kept secret—astronauts have used various drugs, including combinations of amphetamine and scopolamine, to combat space sickness.) Plans for longer missions in space mean the need for more drugs, stored safely for longer periods. The culprits, scientists say, are radiation and the need to repackage pills for space travel. Radiation damages the medicines by ionizing them, and repackaging exposes them to possible oxidation. One bright note: Astronauts in space live in carbon dioxide-rich environments, which “may help minimize the degradation of those medicines prone to oxidations, such as adrenaline, vitamin C and vitamin A.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]