The US has begun training future surgeons in space

Space is rapidly becoming more democratic, and the University of Arizona, in partnership with SpaceX and the Banner Health Foundation, will begin laying the foundations of medicine and surgery in space.

Space is an unforgiving environment where the smallest major work is subject to significant constraints. It is necessary to put in place substantial infrastructure to perform routine actions such as breathing, defecation or eating. But in the current context where this industry is growing more and faster, more ambitious projects are starting to take shape; on the United States side, we are even starting to talk seriously about clinical medicine and especially space surgery.

In fact, this theme will soon be the subject of a partnership between the University of Arizona, SpaceX and the non-profit organization Banner Health. The goal: to set up a new type of university course, centered on medicine and especially on aerospace surgery.

A task force of academic stars with reinforced concrete CVs

This training, called the APEX Aerospace Surgery Fellowship, is in fact a specialization course primarily focused on surgeons and other practitioners who are experts and recognized in their field. The lucky ones will of course be selected through a draconian pre-selection.

And for good reason: in essence, the goal is to make them doctors and surgeons astronauts, that’s all! A position that may be one of the most demanding in the world; after all, it is located right at the intersection of two endlessly dense disciplines whose training requires long years of physical and intellectual effort just to reach the level of knowledge and technical skills required.

It is therefore a particularly rare double hat that requires having a CV as thick as a telephone directory; at present, very few people, like astronaut and medical doctor Jonny Kim, can boast such an academic pedigree. But APEX hopes to resolve this situation.

Operation is already a very complex discipline in normal times … but it’s a whole ball game when liquids circulate as they please due to microgravity. © Olga Kononenko – Unsplash

Major players in aerospace tomorrow

This course will “prepare practitioners to work in the medical branch of commercial aerospace. They will work specifically on ultra-specialized themes; such as hyperbaric medicine, physiology in microgravity conditions, or even the manufacture and administration of treatments in this very strict context in logistical terms.

They also need to learn about the particularities of this environment, and especially the fact that internal fluids and organs float freely in the absence of microgravity. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are still many prohibitive logistics problems that this shock team will try to solve.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a shock team of on-board doctors. They will be sent on various missions, as happens in the navy. There is also a fairly obvious parallel between the two; these are by definition hostile environments, where resources are very limited and crews are left with their own devices. In this context of relative isolation, medical personnel therefore play a more important role than usual. They will provide critical medical and surgical support in these extreme environments, ”the institution’s statement explained.

The APEX course and will consist of one year of intensive training on the campus of the University of Arizona. They will also be able to spend six months working on this theme directly on SpaceX. The goal: to make the link between the theoretical basis and the reality on the ground.

Eventually, these medical astronauts will become an integral part of crews as in SpaceX, which are already considered missions to Mars. © Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, Akihiko Hoshide /SpaceX

Top starting in 2023

Training will begin in July 2023. Eventually, all graduates will be able to support an entire crew on an extended space mission. In particular, they will conduct flight fitness certificates for the crew and regular exams. They should also be able to react to an important emergency situation. On the other hand, most of them do not necessarily participate immediately in a mission.

The reason is simple: they have a lot to do on Earth. Graduates will play an important role in developing technologies essential to the practice of extraterrestrial medicine. “APEX represents our collective construction of the medical future of humanity in space.”, Explained Dr. Eric Petersen, initiated the project and a famous figure in medicine applied to space.

Ten years from now, I expect one of these graduates to perform the first space operation.”, Added his colleague Anil Menon before adding, dreaming:” and with a little luck, it’s on Mars! ” The future will tell us if the latter will have a chance someday to set foot on the red planet.

But whatever the case, she will have the great privilege of serving as a pioneer for a few years. In fact, the former director of medical research at SpaceX has already been poached by NASA; it is now preparing for the Artemis mission, which should return to humans on the moon in 2026. There is no doubt that the crew of this historic mission will be happy to have a specialist by their side, but the stakes are higher: in In addition to all its other promises, this mission could mark the beginning of a galaxy medicine in good and appropriate form.

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