The first drug to accompany astronauts to the moon

peter chalk

Currently, the top-selling drugs in the world are treatments for hepatitis C virus infection, immunosuppressive drugs to help control rheumatism, and drugs to treat diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.

In our country, the drugs with the greatest demand today are analgesics, followed by anxiolytics and antihypertensives. But if we were going to travel to the moon, what medicine would we take with us? This was the dilemma NASA faced in 1969.

What drugs would we take to the moon? Photo: Istock

Synthetic drugs appeared in the 19th century.

First, it should be noted that the word “drug” comes from the Greek Pharmacon, the word originally included drugs and poisons. If we look back and try to discover what the first drugs in history were, it’s really complicated for us because pharmacology is as old as humanity itself.


the first of which is ephedraEphedrine is a natural medicine that was used in China more than 5,000 years ago. The active ingredient is ephedrine, a substance used to treat colds and allergies.

If we take a giant leap and enter the world of synthetic drugs, the situation will change completely. It was born in the 19th century, specifically in 1828, when the Teutonic Friedrich Wölher succeeded in producing urea, the first organic synthesis, by heating the inorganic compound ammonium cyanate.

Soon after, in 1885, the pharmaceutical company Bayer, originally from Leverkusen (Germany), started producing acetophenone, the drug that over time would lead to the paracetamol we all know.

The second drug launched by the pharmaceutical company was acetylsalicylic acid, discovered by Félix Hoffman (1868-1946) and known as Aspirin (1897). The trademark was first registered in Germany on March 6, 1899.

an ancient substance

Initially, aspirin was sold only in powder form, but Bayer soon marketed it in tablet form and within a short time became the first drug for mass consumption.

From an etymological point of view, the word “aspirin” is related to the acetyl group (a), which comes from the plant (Spiral worm) and the suffix (in) then used to refer to the drug.

Since its commercialization, aspirin has relieved inflammation, pain and fever for millions of people. All over the world, though no one knew how the drug worked for more than half a century.

Although the substance appeared in Sumerian tablets more than four thousand years ago in the 1800s, the plant willow, where it occurs naturally, appears on the list of medicines of botanical origin.

Much later, the Ebers papyrus included willow and myrtle, another plant high in salicylic acid, which fights disease. Even closer to us is in the Hippocratic text of the 5th century BC. C.- Mentions the use of a mixture extracted from the bark and leaves of a species of willow tree – salicylic tea (latin willow) for fever and pain relief.

Regardless, the substance’s turning point came in 1763, when a meeting of the Royal Society described the efficacy of willow bark extract against fever and malarial pain.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that chemists embarked on the difficult task of isolating and purifying the components of willow bark. In 1829, the chemist Henry Leroux developed a method of extracting salicin, and eight years later the Italian Raffaele Piria discovered the way to obtain the more powerful acid (water Salicylic acid) method. A decisive step came in 1853 when the chemist Charles Fréderic Gerhardt combined acetyl chloride with sodium salicylate for the first time to produce acetylsalicylic acid.

Aspirin quickly became one of the most famous and demanded drugs. Photo: Istock

from earth to moon

In 1982, scientist John Vane was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how aspirin works a decade earlier: the drug works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins.

Earlier, on July 12, 1969, Aspirin took Apollo 11 to the moonwas included in the first aid kit prepared by NASA.


Since 1977, the World Health Organization has published List of essential drug types Acetylsalicylic acid has been among them so far. It is a registry of medicines that meet the health needs of the population in order for the health system to function properly.

It is estimated that more than 200 million aspirin tablets are currently consumed worldwide. More than two thousand scientific studies related to its properties are published every year.

For all these reasons, it should not surprise us that today millions of Spaniards still have the word aspirin in black capitals on their retinas.

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