Real Voices interview: Brigitte Godard
Meet Brigitte, a flight surgeon with the European Space Agency
What does a flight surgeon do?
I act as general practitioner (GP) for astronauts.
What’s your average day like?
I have one main patient. Right now, it’s Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut on the International Space Station [pictured here with Brigitte]. Right now, it is a quiet time when all is going well from a medical perspective, but things can become more difficult. I talk with Samantha once a week for 15 minutes. I receive and review data from medical exams and do a lot of reporting.
When is it busiest?
Three months before launch and after return. There is a lot of travel, and dealing with medical issues can be stressful. Samantha will land in Kazakhstan, where I will pick her up with the other crew member, and will return directly to Houston, Texas, USA, where all post-flight medical and science exams have to be done (all preflight was collected in Houston).
What are the common medical issues?
Pain, usually the back or legs. Astronauts exercise a lot but it isn’t always enough. Sleep, either falling asleep or waking too early. Space motion sickness, usually at the beginning; luckily, it wasn’t a problem for Samantha.
What is your favourite part?
Launch is something very stressful but so beautiful when you see the rocket going in the sky.
What was your career path?
I wanted to be an astronaut but my eyes were not good enough. I studied to be a medical doctor, but looked out for any medical activities related to space. In 2005, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales – the French Space Agency – was looking for a physician to work in a bed-rest study for healthy volunteers. I then worked on European astronaut selection. Eventually I was offered a flight surgeon position. After one week, I knew it was right for me.
What advice would you give to others?
Do all of the space-related lessons you can. As well as being a doctor, you need knowledge of space. Look for short courses, diplomas and Master’s.
Do you still want to go to space?
A long time ago I did a parabolic flight and got really sick. I tried another recently and was really sick again. So maybe it’s not for me.
- PDF of Real Voices interview – Brigitte Godard [PDF 119KB]