Implanted medical devices in the radiation environment of commercial spaceflight

David P. Reyes, UT Medical Branch at Galveston
Steven S. McClure, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jeffery C. Chancellor, Texas A&M University
Rebecca S. Blue, UT Medical Branch at Galveston
Tarah L. Castleberry, UT Medical Branch at Galveston
James M. Vanderploeg, UT Medical Branch at Galveston


Introduction: Some commercial spaceflight participants (SFPs) may have medical conditions that require implanted medical devices (IMDs), such as cardiac pacemakers, defibrillators, insulin pumps, or similar electronic devices. The effect of space radiation on the function of IMDs is unknown. This review will identify known effects of terrestrial and aviation electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radiation on IMDs in order to provide insight into the potential effects of radiation exposures in the space environment. Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted on available literature on human studies involving the effects of EMI as well as diagnostic and therapeutic radiation on IMDs. Results: The literature review identified potential transient effects from EMI and diagnostic radiation levels as low as 10 mGy on IMDs. High-energy, therapeutic, ionizing radiation can cause more permanent device malfunctions at doses as low as 40 mGy. Radiation doses from suborbital flight altitudes and durations are anticipated to be less than those experienced during an average round-trip, cross-country airline flight and are unlikely to result in significant detriment, though longer, orbital flights may expose SFPs to doses potentially harmful to IMD function. Discussion: Individuals with IMDs should experience few, if any, radiation-related device malfunctions during suborbital flight, but could have problems with radiation exposures associated with longer, orbital flights.