UCLA Space Medicine program equips doctors to deal with 'unique medical challenges' of space travel

The two-year UCLA fellowship includes rotations at SpaceX and engineering training at JPL and Caltech.

“We're starting to become an interplanetary species,” says Haig Aintablian, MD. “For the first time ever, life is on the verge of moving from one planet to another – which is mind-blowing.”

Dr. Aintablian is the inaugural fellow in the newly launched UCLA Space Medicine Fellowship. The first of its kind in the U.S., the fellowship aims to develop the next generation of flight surgeons who will support the health, safety, and well-being of human space flight and planetary expeditions.

“Space medicine is an up-and-coming field that needs to be developed,” as space missions expand to include civilians, Dr. Aintablian says.

The goal of the program is to prepare future flight surgeons to deal with the “unique medical challenges” for people in space and the effects of space travel on the human body, says Jo Feldman, MD, director of the fellowship.

The two-year program begins in July 2022 and includes rotations at SpaceX and a specialized engineering curriculum with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managed by Caltech.

Applications for subsequent years will begin in November 2022 and be open to graduates of four-year ACGME/OGME-accredited Emergency Medicine residencies who are eligible for a California medical license.

Having recently completed his residency in emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Aintablian says emergency medicine physicians are extremely suited to the field of space medicine because “we get to see almost everything in medicine at any point in life.”

Greg Hendey, MD, chair of UCLA Emergency Medicine, called the program “timely” with deep space travel on the not-so-distant horizon.


Training under the fellowship involves participating in a one-month Mars analog mission in Utah, which will recreate the health risks astronauts may face on the Martian surface.

There’s also a rotation in a polar climate that will enable fellows to experience sub-zero environments and how the body withstands changes in pressure in that terrain, amid isolation and limited access to resources.

At the same time, fellows will broaden their medical capabilities through surgical rotations and toxicology courses while continuing their clinical practice as attendings in the Emergency Department. In addition, there’s biomechanical engineering training with the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, and research conducted with the Exploration Medical Capability Element of NASA’s Human Research Program.

The fellowship also includes opportunities with other partnering agencies, such as the University of Colorado’s Aerospace Engineering and Wilderness Medicine programs, as well as those within the aerospace industry.

Allying with industry leaders such as Caltech, JPL and SpaceX will “pave the way for deepening understanding and knowledge of how to keep astronauts and space travelers safe,” says Dr. Feldman.

Learn more about the UCLA Space Medicine Fellowship.