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Would an EpiPen Work in Space?

A group of students did a space experiment and learned something NASA didn’t even know.

Three young people pose together, with two holding clear plastic cubes and the other holding an EpiPen.

Program for Gifted Learners, St. Brother André

Students wanted to see if EpiPens (like the one seen in the middle of this photo) would work in space.

EpiPen auto-injectors are devices that deliver lifesaving treatment to people who are having severe allergic reactions. But do they work in space? A group of students in Canada did an experiment that suggests the answer is no.

The students wondered how the cosmic radiation in space would affect epinephrine, the medication inside an EpiPen. They applied—and were accepted—to iEDU and NASA’s Cubes in Space program, which lets young people send their science experiments into space. The students prepared samples of two substances. One was pure epinephrine. The other was epinephrine in a sterile solution, which is what EpiPens contain. NASA then launched the samples into space—one on a rocket and the other on a high-altitude balloon.

A girl in a classroom holds a vial with clear liquid inside.

Program for Gifted Learners, St. Brother André

The students sent epinephrine, the medication inside an EpiPen, into space.

Before and after the launch, the students sent the samples to a lab for testing. This allowed them to compare the samples before and after they had been in space. Scientists found that the pure epinephrine samples were only 87 percent pure after returning from space. The other 13 percent had turned into benzoic acid derivatives, which are poisonous. The EpiPen solution samples no longer contained epinephrine after being in space, suggesting that if a person tried to use an EpiPen during a space mission, it would be ineffective.

“It was pretty cool,” student Hannah Thomson told Global News. “NASA didn’t know.”

The experiment is important because space agencies and private companies are planning new human missions to space. The results raise questions about whether astronauts would be able to rely on important medications during these missions. 

Now the students are working on a capsule they hope will protect the EpiPen solution from cosmic radiation.

“You feel like you’re making a real change,” student Benjamin Sum told Global News. “A lot of the time it feels like it’s just adults. But kids can actually be involved.”

A group of students pose together holding vials, plastic cubes, and an EpiPen.

Program for Gifted Learners, St. Brother André

Did You Know?

Mockup showing Mars, an astronaut with a space capsule, and roundtrip tickets to Mars departing April 2026 and arriving back October 2027.

© Studiostockcreator, Martin Holverda/; Composite illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

NASA is aiming to send humans to Mars by the late 2030s or early 2040s. It will take about 500 days (nearly a year and five months) to get to Mars and back.

Don’t Catch These Rays!

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, courtesy of NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, Tom Bash and John Fox/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF, JPL-Caltech/UCLA

A NASA space telescope pinpointed a source of high-energy cosmic rays, shown here.

Students found that cosmic radiation seems to have affected the medication in EpiPens. What is cosmic radiation?

Cosmic radiation (sometimes called cosmic rays) is made up of tiny parts of atoms that speed through outer space. Some cosmic radiation comes from the Sun, but most of it originates from farther away in the galaxy. 

The particles from cosmic radiation are harmful to humans. Earth’s atmosphere protects us from the effects of this radiation. Astronauts in low Earth orbit (like the astronauts who live and work on the International Space Station) also have some protection. But farther out in space, there is no such protection. According to NASA, long-term exposure to cosmic radiation damages the body’s cells and can lead to heart disease, nervous system damage, and cancer. 

As space agencies plan for longer space missions, including some as far away as Mars, scientists are studying ways to prevent these problems. They’re researching more protective materials for spacecraft and space suits. They’re also working on ways to make faster rockets so that astronauts can get through the radiation more quickly.

What’s Out There?

A cluster of stars in space

NASA Goddard

We’ve been exploring space since the 1950s and studying it for thousands of years. But we’ve barely scratched the surface. What do we know about the universe—and what’s still unknown?

You can learn more at Britannica School!






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