New at Charité: international master’s degree program in space medicine

Erasmus Mundus joint master in Germany, France, and Slovenia
Cold, isolation, weightlessness: People face extreme conditions in places like Antarctica or space. Space medicine is the study of how humans adapt to these environments and how to mitigate adverse impacts. This subject can be studied starting in the 2024 winter semester: Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has teamed up with universities in France and Slovenia to introduce a master’s degree program in space medicine and physiology in extreme environments. Applications are due March 1.


Muscle atrophy, bone loss, and changes in the brain are just some of the effects faced by people who spend time in the zero-gravity environment in space. On top of that, the close quarters and isolation found on a space station create psychological strain as well. Research on these phenomena is growing more important, both because space agencies are planning longer crewed spaceflights and because space tourism is gaining momentum. 

And yet, space is only the most extreme of the environments humans may encounter. There are also conditions that stress the body to an extreme degree right here on earth, whether due to very high or low temperatures, pressure and negative pressure, or sensory deprivation. Studying these environments and how they affect humans helps to make expeditions at high altitude or work under extreme conditions such as firefighting safer. Moreover, this field also provides important insight into how to deal with heat waves, physical inactivity, and loneliness.

Many of the research findings on people who have spent time in space also benefit those on earth: Much like in space, people who have to spend a long time lying down lose a lot of muscle and are at greater risk of osteoporosis. And like in space, strength training can lower this risk. But researchers don’t necessarily have to perform experiments in space to study the anatomical, physiological, and psychological ways humans adapt to space. Simulation scenarios such as parabolic flights, isolation studies in Antarctica, and bed rest studies allow scientists to gain valuable insight right here on our planet.

Study program at three universities in Europe

To train junior researchers in this discipline specifically, Charité, the University of Caen Normandy (France), and Jožef Stefan International Postgraduate School (Slovenia) have pooled their expertise in space medicine and crafted a joint Erasmus Mundus master’s degree program. The program aims to allow students to advance the research in the specific fields of space medicine and physiology in extreme environments, provide healthcare to space travelers, or design life support systems for space travel. 

“At Charité, we have a long history of studying humans in space and in extreme environments, with our research focus on space medicine at the Institute of Physiology,” explains Dr. Alexander Stahn of Charité’s Institute of Physiology, who will be in charge of coordinating the program at Charité. “We study questions ranging from the musculoskeletal system to the central nervous system, and our findings have an international reach. I’m delighted that we will now be able to pass this proven expertise along to the next generation in cooperation with our partners, thanks to this unique degree program and its structured and interdisciplinary approach.”

Program open to people with degrees in medicine, physical and life sciences, and engineering

The two-year degree program is aimed at candidates who already have a degree in medicine, a master’s degree in engineering, or a bachelor’s degree in physical and life sciences or kinesiology. Students will spend one semester at each of the three universities and then write a thesis at one of 28 international partner organizations. They will have the opportunity to participate in research projects supported by space agencies such as NASA and ESA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Upon completion of the program, they will receive a joint Erasmus Mundus master’s degree from the three universities.

Prospective students can apply to the program through the University of Caen Normandy until March 1. Thirteen students will be admitted in the program’s first year, who will be provided with scholarships. The program will be taught in English. The EU is providing about 4.7 million euros in funding to support the establishment of the joint Erasmus Mundus master’s degree program.