Longitudinal study of astronaut health: Mortality in the years 1959-1991

Leif E. Peterson, L. J. Pepper, P. B. Hamm, S. L. Gilbert

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46 Scopus citations


We conducted a historical cohort study of mortality among 195 astronauts who were exposed to space and medical sources of radiation between 1959 and 1991. Cumulative occupational and medical radiation exposures were obtained from the astronaut radiation exposure history data base. Causes of death were obtained from obligatory death certificates and autopsy reports that were on file in the medical records. There was a total of 20 deaths that occurred during the 32-year follow-up period of which 16 were due to accidents. The all-cause standardized mortality ratio (SMR) was 181 (95% confidence interval 110, 279). There was 1 cancer death in the buccal cavity and pharyngeal ICD- 9 rubric whose occurrence was significantly beyond expectation. Mortality for coronary disease was 53% lower than expected (2 deaths; SMR = 47; 95% confidence limits 5, 168). The crude death rate for 12 occupationally related accidents was 445 deaths per 100,000 person-years and was an order of magnitude greater than accidental death rates in the mining industries. The SMR of 1346 for fatal accidents was significantly beyond expectation (16 deaths; 95% confidence limits 769, 2168) and was similar to SMRs for accidents among aerial pesticide applicators. The 10-year cumulative risk of occupational fatalities based on the exponential, Weibull, Gompertz, and linear-exponential distributions was 10%. Mortality from motor vehicle accidents was slightly higher than expected, but was not significant (1 death; SMR = 165; 95% confidence limits 2, 922). Radiation exposures from medical procedures accounted for a majority of cumulative dose when compared with space radiation exposures. Overall, it was found that astronauts are at a health disadvantage as a result of catastrophic accidents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-264
Number of pages8
JournalRadiation Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiation
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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