The Headache of Carbon Dioxide Exposures 2007-01-3218
Carbon dioxide (CO2), a natural product of human metabolism, accumulates quickly in sealed environments when humans are present, and can induce headaches, among other symptoms. Major resources are expended to control CO2 levels to concentrations that are tolerable to the crews of spacecraft and submersible craft. It is not practical to control CO2 levels to those found in the ambient environment on earth. As NASA looks ahead to long-duration missions conducted far from earth, difficult issues arise related to the management and effects of human exposure to CO2. One is the problem of “pockets” of CO2 in the habitat caused by excess generation of the gas in one location without a mechanism to purge the area with fresh air. This results in the crew rebreathing CO2 from their exhaled breath, exposing them to a much higher concentration of CO2 than whole-module measurements would suggest. Another issue is the potential increased sensitivity to CO2 in microgravity. For example, based on anecdotal information, it appears that space crews may be more susceptible than submarine crews to some of the subtle, yet adverse effects of CO2 exposure. Another issue, not unique to spaceflight, is the possibility of inter-individual differences in the susceptibility of crewmembers to CO2 exposure. Again, anecdotal reports from the International Space Station (ISS) crews suggest that certain individuals may experience a greater susceptibility. The implications associated with these issues are extremely important as NASA sets CO2 exposure limits that protect the crew from this compound's subtle adverse effects, without causing an unwarranted expenditure of resources to scrub CO2 from the habitat atmosphere.