For space anthropologist Keirsten Snover, living unlimited means going where no man or woman has gone before.
“As far back as I can remember, I always loved science,” Keirsten says. “I have always been fascinated by all the different fields.”
Keirsten has mitochondrial myopathy. As a result of the disease’s progression, she uses a wheelchair and is reliant on a feeding tube and breathing tube. And none of that has dampened her spirit or excitement for science.
Snover is especially passionate about anthropology, which is the study of people and cultures past and present. She dedicated her life to the field and holds three degrees in the discipline — bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Washington University and a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University.
Keirsten specializes in medical anthropology, specifically the interaction between people and diseases and the differences between how cultures around the world respond to and live with diseases.
Her excitement and passion comes from knowing how the study of anthropology can be used to better the world.
“When I was focusing on medical anthropology,” Snover says, “there were lots of opportunities to help with the operation of international health programs. I was even fortunate enough to be able to travel to Nairobi, Kenya, and assist in several HIV/AIDS clinics there.”
Within the last few years, Snover’s passion expanded to the realm of space. The connection between space and anthropology, however, happened for her by chance back in 2010.
“I was working as a researcher in the area of genetic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio,” she says. “One day while doing some medical research in the hospital’s library, I stumbled upon the information that the Cleveland Clinic had a Center for Space Medicine. As a medical anthropologist, I was intrigued.
“I quickly realized that this was a potential field for my anthropological research, and so after my position at the Cleveland Clinic was over, I signed up for graduate-level coursework in space science.”
After attending and networking at a NASA conference, Keirsten realized space science and anthropology intersected in many ways, including how astronauts from different cultures interact on the International Space Station and how space affects astronauts’ physical health and bone mass.
“It seemed like the more I looked into the whole field of space science — not just space medicine — the more I found ways that anthropology could be connected to it,” Snover says. “It was so exciting to find a new area to study, one that had been barely considered by previous anthropologists.”
Today, in addition to being an independent researcher and consultant, Snover has started a website called Space Anthropology Services, a resource dedicated to the burgeoning field.
Keirsten wants to inspire others living with a disability to become passionate about science. She’s currently pursuing several ideas, such as creating space-themed events with different activity stations that can accommodate various disabilities.
For individuals living with muscular dystrophy who like science but are unsure whether or not to pursue their interests, Keirsten has a piece of advice:
“If some of you are thinking that maybe you can’t be a scientist or maybe you can’t study space because you have a muscle disease, I can understand why you might think that way,” she says. “Maybe it’s hard for you to do some things, like walk, or use your arms, or even breathe. It’s hard for me to do these things, too. I use a power wheelchair to get around because it’s hard for me to walk. I use a feeding tube to eat food and drink water because my stomach muscles don’t really work anymore. I use hearing aids to help me hear. I have special glasses because I have double vision. I use a ventilator because it’s hard for me to breathe. Some days I feel so tired and weak that I stay in bed almost all day. Maybe it’s like this for some of you, too.
“But you can still be a scientist! Don’t think that you can’t work at a place like NASA just because you have a disability. NASA hires people with disabilities!”
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