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Medicine NASA Space Science Technology

NASA Prepares For Space Surgery and Zero Gravity Blood 158

Posted by timothy
from the in-space-no-one-can-hear-you-choke-on-vomit dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Draining an infected abscess is a straightforward procedure on Earth but on a spaceship travelling to the moon or Mars, it could kill everyone on board. Now Rebecca Rosen writes that if humans are to one day go to Mars, one logistical hurdle that will need to be overcome is what to do if one of the crew members has a medical emergency and needs surgery. 'Based on statistical probability, there is a high likelihood of trauma or a medical emergency on a deep space mission,' says Carnegie Mellon professor James Antaki. It's not just a matter of whether you'll have the expertise on board to carry out such a task: Surgery in zero gravity presents its own set of potentially deadly complications because in zero gravity, blood and bodily fluids will not just stay put, in the body where they belong but could contaminate the entire cabin, threatening everybody on board. This week, NASA is testing a device known as the Aqueous Immersion Surgical System (AISS) that could possibly make space surgery possible. Designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Louisville, AISS is a domed box that can fit over a wound. When filled with a sterile saline solution, a water-tight seal is created that prevents fluids from escaping. It can also be used to collect blood for possible reuse."
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NASA Prepares For Space Surgery and Zero Gravity Blood

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  • by Hsien-Ko (1090623) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @09:35AM (#41576257)
    but damn does it look cool and tasty in slow motion.
  • Why don't they use an artificial centrifuge for surgical procedures (2001 style)?
    • You mean the rotating space module twice the size of the entire ISS ? TFA is just a small reminder about the kind of state the whole 'space travel' thing is. Basically it is all just a big stunt and wishful thinking right now, despite of all the advancements we had over the years.
      • Re:centrifuge (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheLink (130905) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:32AM (#41576489) Journal
        It's just stupid. They are wasting time and money doing research on crap like this when they should just spend it on building space stations with artificial gravity. You could do it with tethers and counterweights if you can't afford a huge space module.

        So much research on the "problems of doing things wrong". You cannot have a sustainable human population in space without artificial gravity, so such "zero gravity" research is niche and near dead end for long term space travel.

        Once you have artificial gravity and decent radiation shielding you can go to the asteroid belt which is a better choice than Mars since asteroids aren't huge gravity wells. It's not like Mars is a hospitable environment, so any talk of Mars is stupid at this point of time - it's like talking of jumping before you can even stand.
        • by Hentes (2461350)

          Even if we could build a large centrifuge in Earth orbit, we couldn't send it to Mars. In space, every kilo counts, and a centrifugal station just for operations is a huge overkill. Also, we will never have a sustainable human population in space for the simple reason that it's empty. Any population in space would have to rely on outside supplies of air, water, food etc.

          • by ewanm89 (1052822)

            Space is far from empty, it's full of stars and planets, nebulae and accretion discs. And measurable amounts of energy no matter where you are. We can only see stuff that either emits energy, reflects enough energy out way for us to measure or is near something doing one of the first two and we can see it's gravitational effects. Anything else we can't detect, it doesn't mean there isn't more out there.
            What space is: "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mea

          • by TheLink (130905)
            Who said anything about building a large centrifuge?

            I said tethers and counterweights. Put a module on one end of a few strong cables and a counterweight on the other. And then set it spinning.

            You can get your supplies from the asteroids. There are some with lots of water. Some with lots of ore.
        • by Telvin_3d (855514)

          A couple big problems with this. Mostly due to the required low-ish orbit of any space station.

          First, the ISS and the astronauts and equipment on it are not actually in zero-gravity. They are in free-fall. They are all orbiting the earth in very similar, but not perfectly identical, orbits. That's why equipment and such can drift away from where it is released. This actually causes some tidal stresses for large objects separated by distance such as the ISS panels and main structure. God knows what kinds of

          • by TheLink (130905)

            Whatever it is, doing research into finding and solving those problems sure seems more worthwhile than the near "dead end" research they're doing.

            There are many things depending on gravity: http://www.space.com/4302-stresses-immune-organs.html [space.com]
            Just too much trouble trying to live long term without it.

            And as far I see if we can build spacecraft that can cope with 3g, we should be able to build a spinning "bucket"+cables+"counterweight" that can cope with 1g (from spinning) plus some tidal forces.

            • Before attempting rocket propulsion, it is helpful to learn to walk. This research isnt dead-end, its just part of a very long path that gets us further into space.

          • by tomhath (637240)

            Interesting comments, but two things to consider:

            1) You don't need to rotate the entire vehicle, just a small module inside it to provide a little artificial gravity when needed.

            2) The problems have been worked out long ago. Hubble and spy satellites use gyros to aim the vehicle [hubblesite.org] at whatever is being imaged. It's a very cool system, just transfer momentum between the gyros and the vehicle whenever you need to point it, takes almost no energy to move even a huge telescope.

        • Indeed, artificial gravity by rotating an Apollo vehicle with a counterweight was actually performed in the early stages of the program.
          I'm not really sure how this can be considered too daring now, but also here in Europe nobody is considering it anymore...

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        You miss the real point of the problem. NASA is PR first and foremost. We didn't go the the moon to "do" anything, other than plant a USA flag and hit some golf balls. The Space Race was PR, and nothing more. NASA is still hung up on that, and is very risk averse as an organization (even if some people inside it make stupid mistakes, leading to shuttle "accidents" that could have been avoided). Dead astronauts are very bad PR, so NASA takes more steps than necessary to protect life, when everyone going
    • by dhammond (953711)

      This was my first thought too. It might make sense to assume that some sort of artificial gravity will be a requirement for manned deep space travel. I mean, let alone the advantages for surgery and all the other things we do on earth that are made easier with gravity, but it would probably have a profound impact on the overall health of the travelers.

  • Robots and rovers are becoming so good that I think we should take all that manned mission to Mars money and re-purpose it to exploring Mars, and Titan, and Jupiter's moons with machines.

    The only viable manned missions that I can see right now would be "one way tickets", and the politicians are too squeamish for those.

    So, rovers and flying drones, or boats for Titan are the best way to go at the moment.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:31AM (#41576481)

      We dare not question the old paradigm of "wooden ships and iron men" because, well, drama.

      We need robots on Earth, and since every task in space is dangerous and since humans are a burden to support, there is no functional reason for the desperate rush to send people.

      We should perfect machines before sending tourists. We have time.

      • by khallow (566160)

        We need robots on Earth, and since every task in space is dangerous and since humans are a burden to support, there is no functional reason for the desperate rush to send people.

        Except there's also the usual procrastination problem. If we don't start now, when we already are very capable of doing so, then when will the better time come along, if ever?

        We should perfect machines before sending tourists.

        Why? We didn't wait for perfect machines before we built an industrial civilization. Tourists who visit dangerous places, like Mt. Everest, don't wait for perfect machines either.

        We have time.

        Do you expect to be alive when either humans land on Mars or machines are perfected? If not, then you don't have the time.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          "Why? We didn't wait for perfect machines before we built an industrial civilization. Tourists who visit dangerous places, like Mt. Everest, don't wait for perfect machines either."

          In the old days, exploration was dirt cheap and so were people. Losing a bunch of sailors was no big deal nor was losing a ship or several. It would be like losing a UAV today.

          Building an industrial civilization provided immediate and ongoing benefit well worth the millions of lives it cost. (China "gets" this, by the way!)

          Touri

          • by khallow (566160)

            In the old days, exploration was dirt cheap and so were people. Losing a bunch of sailors was no big deal nor was losing a ship or several. It would be like losing a UAV today.

            Ships were significant investments not "UAV" level costs. And people just aren't that expensive now, even astronauts.

            Tourists fund their own adventures, and if they want to jerk off climbing Everest then that's their right. Let them pay other countries to send them while those other countries are funding space adventures for penis-waving reasons. There is no reason the Rest Of The World can't cough up some loot and go play.

            So your only complaint is that public funds are used? I'm good with getting rid of that.

            No, but my desire for entertainment shouldn't be the driver of waste. Send robots to take good pictures, because even a tourist cannot doff his/her helmet and breathe the atmosphere. There must always be a barrier. Given sufficient technology, the visual experience can be replicated remotely.

            4-20 minutes one way, communication delay are a far bigger obstacle than a helmet. Similarly, we could and do simulate visually the effects of going to Mt. Everest, but people would rather pay to go there directly even though they have barriers as well (such as a breathing apparatus and warm clothing).

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Except for the fact that our robots still pretty much suck when it comes to versatility - in a few days a single human on foot could have done everything one of the Rovers did in it's entire mission, plus more. And humans are a lot cheaper to make than robots. As long as there are competent explorers and adventurers in the world willing to give their lives to discover new frontiers the only real argument for robots is that they are cheaper to ship, and much of that expense is incurred just getting from th

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        The Apollo15 crew covered more ground and did managed to make far more observations in 3 days than Spirit could in 5 years. Humans are still much more efficient explorers than robots, provided we can get them to their destination.

        • A robot built to the size and mass of the Apollo landing system is a helluva lot more capable than Spirit too. Make this comparison again after MSL has been in operation for a while, and see what the results are. I suspect the gap will be narrowed considerably. Not that I have anything against astronauts. I like astronauts. Being nosy, in person, is part of being human, so have at it. Just saying, The Apollo missions had a serious mass advantage.

          • by khallow (566160)

            A robot built to the size and mass of the Apollo landing system is a helluva lot more capable than Spirit too. Make this comparison again after MSL has been in operation for a while, and see what the results are. I suspect the gap will be narrowed considerably. Not that I have anything against astronauts. I like astronauts. Being nosy, in person, is part of being human, so have at it. Just saying, The Apollo missions had a serious mass advantage.

            It's worth noting here that for the Moon a Cold War publicity stunt ended up being more serious scientifically, than anything since. The "mass advantage" translates into a host of advantages, the biggest of which is that the best tools for surface analysis, namely people, were used.

    • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @11:44AM (#41576853)
      It's like deciding to have a baby. It's never the right time, you'll never have enough money... You just have to jump in with both feet at some point and say "fuck it" The entire point of what we do in space is to eventually send real people. We aren't going to get any better at that, until we send them. Will people die? You bet. There's nothing wrong with that. Many in this world long for the days when there were things you could still do that risked everything but rewarded the successful with glory unimagined in this day and age. Let those that dream of glory risk it all to better mankind. It's more immoral to chain them to this earth than let them reach for the stars on waxen wings.
      • Why not wait a few hundred or thousand years ? There's absolutely no rush to send fragile humans in a tin can to Mars where there will be nothing but inhospitable wasteland waiting for them. It's much smarter to keep sending robots until Mars is actually a pleasant place to stay. Robots are much, much cheaper, and can be deployed a lot faster too.
  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:12AM (#41576403)

    The ability of humans to perform well on the surface of any planet after months of zero-g seems doubtful. Build the spacecraft big enough, and rotate it. Better yet, send two spacecraft, tether them together, and rotate both of them about their center of mass. It will solve a lot more problems than the relatively minor one of dealing with in-space surgery.

    • by kurt555gs (309278) <(kurt555gs) (at) (ovi.com)> on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:17AM (#41576425) Homepage

      Why rotate. Nuclear powered spacecraft could simply keep accelerating at 1G until it was time to turn around and decelerate at 1G. Problem solves, and they would get there a lot quicker too.

      • by mbone (558574) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @11:17AM (#41576717)

        Why rotate. Nuclear powered spacecraft could simply keep accelerating at 1G until it was time to turn around and decelerate at 1G. Problem solves, and they would get there a lot quicker too.

        Because we don't have anything like the energy density required to do that (at least for times longer than microseconds, i.e., nuclear bombs).

        Energy density drives the engineering here. If we had enough energy density, we could soup up ion rockets or use nuclear thermal and get to places very fast.

        Make or find a ton of antimatter or so, and let's talk.

        • Spaceship powered by a constant stream of exploding nuclear bombs? I'd love to watch that liftoff. From underneath a wooden desk.

        • by Firehed (942385)

          Microseconds? Are you kidding? We accelerate at rates higher than 1G all the time, and certainly do it for longer than microseconds. A (very) fast car can pull over 1G (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fastest_production_cars_by_acceleration [wikipedia.org]), and drag racers have set records of just over 3Gs. Go look at fighter jets if you're so inclined, never mind spacecraft.

          Sustaining it for enough time to do serious long-term exploration will certainly be a problem, but what you're saying is just incorrect.

      • by MrChips (29877)

        Why rotate. Nuclear powered spacecraft could simply keep accelerating at 1G until it was time to turn around and decelerate at 1G. Problem solves, and they would get there a lot quicker too.

        Not sure how close we are technologically to doing something like this, but Earth to Mars would only be a day or two. Think about how much less life support (food, water, etc.) needs to be sent along with the crew if the transit is that short. Also, if you're going to Mars, why not do .33G (Mars gravity equivalent) instead. Or start at 1G and slowly drop to .33G. Then there's little to no adaptation required when you get there.

    • by csumpi (2258986)
      """two spacecraft, tether them together, and rotate both of them"""

      And you don't think that would create new problems? For example complicating navigation to avoid space junk? Or throwing up every time you look out the window?
      • by TheLink (130905) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:51AM (#41576583) Journal
        1) Moving the spinning thing is not a huge problem
        2) One solution - no windows. Or use cameras. Nuclear submariners do fine without windows. I bet they are better suited to space than pilots (so most of that NASA research into humans living in long term confined environments was probably a waste too - the nuclear submariners have been doing it for years).

        And at least research into building space stations/ships with artificial gravity is going to be more useful in the long run. You're not going to have humans long term in space sustainably - reproducing, living etc without artificial gravity.

        In contrast research into space surgery in zero g is a waste of time and resources- this and most zero g research is basically like researching into dealing with bad stuff because you keep doing things wrong in the first place.
        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @12:30PM (#41577069) Journal

          1) Moving the spinning thing is not a huge problem

          The reason we haven't set up spinning habitats in space is because of weight.
          If you want something to spin, it must be strong. Strength means weight and weight means cost and the cost is prohibitively high or we'd have done it already.

          In contrast research into space surgery in zero g is a waste of time and resources- this and most zero g research is basically like researching into dealing with bad stuff because you keep doing things wrong in the first place.

          The human body keeps doing things wrong in the first place.
          Things like appendicitis, ingrown hairs/nails, wax build up in your ears, and a thousand other things that happen.
          How did this nonsense get modded up?

          • by TheLink (130905)
            Look up tether in a dictionary. Have you seen a suspension bridge before? Those skinny cables sure can hold a lot of weight. And if we can build spacecraft that can survive 3g we should be able build a space module that can survive 1g spinning without falling apart.

            How did your nonsense get modded up?
          • by khallow (566160)

            If you want something to spin, it must be strong. Strength means weight and weight means cost and the cost is prohibitively high or we'd have done it already.

            Most human habitable things have to be "strong" anyway to survive launch and holding pressure against vacuum.

        • by khallow (566160)

          In contrast research into space surgery in zero g is a waste of time and resources- this and most zero g research is basically like researching into dealing with bad stuff because you keep doing things wrong in the first place.

          I thought the same until I realized that sometimes artificial gravity isn't available. Maybe your ship is broken or maybe you're on a ship too small to sustain artificial gravity (for example, some sort of "escape pod" or lifeboat).

          • by TheLink (130905)
            Almost anyone can survive weightlessness for a few days. If you're going to spend months in space lifeboat you're already dead, unless you can freeze yourself.

            It's like doing research into not needing water in the long term. Sure we can do without water for a day or two. But why waste time researching into doing without water for months, when the better solution is just to supply potable water?
            • What if the rotational section breaks down and you need to perform surgery? These two events are pretty well connected to each other - a potential mechanical failure in the rotational section, even repairable, might also cause an injured crewman. You would want to be able to do surgery or minor surgical procedures in zero or low gravity, because you might not be able to repair the rotation for some time.

            • by khallow (566160)

              If you're going to spend months in space lifeboat you're already dead, unless you can freeze yourself.

              Or you have enough life support to last a few months.

              It's like doing research into not needing water in the long term. Sure we can do without water for a day or two. But why waste time researching into doing without water for months, when the better solution is just to supply potable water?

              Actually, it's not because prolonged periods of weightlessness are survivable. While I imagine most humans in space would try hard to avoid prolonged periods of weightlessness, it seems likely that something will go wrong sooner or later. Understanding what's going to happen in that case and how to make things better, probably will save considerable lives in space in the long term.

      • by khallow (566160)

        Or throwing up every time you look out the window?

        Why would that happen? I figure anyone that delicate probably would be chucking every time they move their head around.

    • It will solve a lot more problems than the relatively minor one of dealing with in-space surgery.

      Tethering also *introduces* a lot of problems too. Now the systems need to work at zero-G as well as whatever G load in induced by the tether. Mobility within the spacecraft equally becomes difficult for the same reasons. Making course correction burns becomes infinitely more difficult as you need to exit the tethered and rotating state, perform the burn, and re-tether and spin up. (Also adding multiple fai

      • by mbone (558574)

        You don't need to exit the rotating state to do course corrections. You don't even need rockets on both ends, but that would be best.

        As far as thermal control and communications, etc., are concerned, remember that there is over 54 years of experience with spin-stabilized spacecraft. The things you are worried about have solutions dating from decades ago. (Note, by the way, that Apollo voyaged in "rotisserie mode," where it spun about its long axis, to spread the thermal load around. If you decide to do thi

        • As far as thermal control and communications, etc., are concerned, remember that there is over 54 years of experience with spin-stabilized spacecraft.

          I really need to point out to you that the Apollo barbeque mode was only 1RPM or so? That almost none of the spun stabilized spacecraft have spun fast enough to produce more than a few hundredths of a G? That all of the spun stabilized spacecraft to date have consisted of single spacecraft, not tethered? (Which means, among other things, that they were were

    • To achieve 1g through rotation (at a speed low enough that you don't get adverse effects) you need a radius of 225 m, so the two spacecraft would be half a km apart. That would make moving between the two a pain: it means either a spacewalk or a rigid tunnel between the two, and you'd be moving against gravity - a half-km climb is no picnic. You'd be better off making one of the spacecraft a dumb weight with maybe an engine cluster on it for maneuvering.

      • by mbone (558574)

        The tethered spacecraft plans I have seen for Mars have as a design goal 1 Mars gravity, not 1 Earth gravity. As that is 0.379 of an Earth gravity, and as a = Omega**2 R, and as Omega is bounded by human factors, that makes the tether 85 meters, which is a lot better. The basic tether should mass a kilogram or less, so there could be lots of redundancy there.

        It is a reasonable bet that, if you had 2 spaceships tethered together like this, the crews wouldn't be visiting each other very often in flight. But,

    • by evilviper (135110)

      How about just a small cabin coming off a boom arm, for medical emergencies and recreation if otherwise unoccupied? It's not like we don't know how to make something like that...

        http://dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/screamer_carnival_ride.jpg [typepad.com]

  • by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:22AM (#41576443)
    They should launch more crew members than they need, with the assumption that the ones that require surgery en route will be chucked out the airlock.
  • by fa2k (881632) <pmbjornstad&gmail,com> on Sunday October 07, 2012 @10:45AM (#41576551)

    "My job is rocket surgery!"

  • Considering surgery in space is good omen. At the very least, Someone is planning to be there one day.
    • by kurt555gs (309278)

      How would space surgery be funded? Not socialist government medicine I hope? Without obscene profits to some rights holders, it shouldn't be allowed.

      • Man, slashdot sure does like its strawmen.

        I challenge you to find anyone on ANY end of the political spectrum who is opposed to the government caring for its military or NASA staff when they are injured on-duty. I seem to recall that the right stereotypically likes the military, so I think youll have no luck there.

      • by tjstork (137384)

        LOL... LOL... LOL... Don't worry, they will kill it in favor of socialist highway construction...

  • It seems to me that any mission taking months of time, would use some kind of artificial gravity. Artificial gravity would be needed for the astronauts health and muscle tone as well as medical emergencies requiring surgery.

    Research:
    "help ward off the debilitating loss of muscle and bone due to weightlessness on long missions" [space.com]
    Here is the physics:
    Simulated Gravity with Centripetal Force [regentsprep.org]

    Does anyone know of plans for the Mars mission (what kind of vehicle will be used)?
    • by mbone (558574)

      Does anyone know of plans for the Mars mission (what kind of vehicle will be used)?

      You need to look at the Design Reference Mission [nasa.gov] - see also this presentation on the Design Reference Architecture [nasa.gov] 5.0. These aren't exactly plans, but they are a fairly fleshed out mission design, to get people something specific to refer to and a benchmark to research against. If you look at DRM 7.1.2, it talks about artificial gravity, but basically puts this as "to be determined."

  • I have heard that in the early days of the space program, they flushed human waste out of the ships. Subsequently, one day when they were working in the space shuttle, they found grime (from the waste) basically lining the cargo hold. Of course, that wasn't in a pressurized cabin at temperatures conducive to bacterial growth...

  • Just put 'em in the autodoc.
  • The question is not "how can we learn to do a thousand difficult tasks in zero gee?", but "how can we provide artificial gravity so we don't have to?" We've spent tens of billions of dollars learning to do everything imaginable in microgravity, and mere millions trying to develop a workable centrifugal gravity system for long-duration spaceflight. And Robert Zubrin, divisive as he is, is probably right about why: there's an entire industry of NASA scientists working on solving microgravity problems, and t

  • Ah NASA, always choosing the most complicated method for something with a hundred simple solutions. Suctioning the surgery area is something that is has been done for decades here on earth, it would probably need minimal modifications for use in space. As far as free floating blood just put a high flow cotton air filter next to the wound. That should collect most free floating fluids, and if a few get loose so what? Its blood not Plutonium-238? The only real advantage I can see with this is that it wou
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ah space nutters, always assuming that the highly paid, very experienced engineers at NASA are simply "complexicating" the work because they don't know any better than an armchair idiot.

      Let's think about the problems:

      1) Suction: what happens when the person gets an arterial laceration? You going to just keep suctioning until all the blood is out of their body? What will you replace it with? How will you get it back in them without cutting them open to clamp off the artery? We're not talking about "oh

  • Needs to be large enough to remove alien parasites

  • Every single time a story about manned Mars or Moon missions comes up here on Slashdot I am compelled to remind everyone that there are going to be no manned Mars or Moon missions in the next 50 years. The only entities that could do it (theoretically) are the federal governments of the USA, the former Soviet Union (which still exists as far a space exploration goes), and China (people's republic of, if you one of those people who still insist that there are two Chinas).
    All these gove

    • On the other hand, Elon Musk is serious about it, and his next launch of a resupply to the ISS happens tonight. Be sure to watch. [spacex.com] If it blows up this time (it didn't last time), then I'll shut up. But chances are it won't, and SpaceX will keep steaming along.

      Maybe, just maybe, a government won't be involved this time. (80% of SpaceX's current launch manifest is commercial. Only 20% of the money they're currently expecting to collect will come from governments.)

  • We need space surgery research. It's going to happen at some point. But, what we also need is faster spacecraft. Nuclear powered ships can cut the journey to Mars and asteroids down to months or even weeks, with even heavier payloads, and are designs that are viable. We could have artificial gravity by spinning wheels, arriving quickly at other places in the solar system, and know how to do surgery in zero g conditions. But, nope, instead we're going to have any number of earth bound pet projects.

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