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Surgery (and Soldering) in Space

Hermetic Surgery in KC-135 'Vomit Comet'  (Air & Space) - RF Cafe

Hermetic surgery trial in zero gravity conditions in the KC-135 'Vomit Comet'. (Air & Space magazine photo)

Leonid Rogovoz removes his own appendix during an isolate Antarctic mission (Air & Space) - RF Cafe

Russian doctor Leonid Rogovoz removes his own appendix during an isolated Antarctic mission. (Air & Space magazine photo)

Air & Space magazine has an article in the September 2015 issue that discusses medical issues for consideration during extended stays in space - whether it be in orbit around Earth or during a journey to or from the moon or a planet. Believe it or not, to this day there is no practical method of performing invasive surgery in zero gravity conditions. The problem is controlling escaping blood. Even inside a glove box type contraption ('hermetic surgery') the free-floating blood interferes with an operation enough to jeopardize procedures. Even orthoscopic methods are difficult because at some point blood tends to escape the body.

As part of planning for every conceivable emergency, NASA (USA), ESA (EU), RFSA (Russia), and CNSA (China) have agreed that the only reasonable way to deal with an astronaut who has assumed space temperature is to do the equivalent of a burial at sea - launch the body into a separate orbit, where at some point it will create a bright streak across the sky. The story didn't mention whether there would be a transponder of some sort onboard to track the body's progress. Would such a corpse be considered 'space junk' like all the uncountable man-made metal and plastic parts circling the globe today? Fortunately, such a situation has not occurred, but eventually it will. Gauging public opinion on the agencies' actions will be interesting when the time comes.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - RF CafeTo the right is a photo of Russian doctor Leonid Rogovoz removing his own appendix during an isolated Antarctic mission where he could not get back home for proper treatment. The scenario reminds me of a scene in the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" (one of my favorite movies, BTW) where the ship's doctor operated on himself, without anesthesia, to remove a musket ball from under his ribs. This gives a whole new perspective to the words "Physician, heal thyself."

Mike Fincke soldering onboard the ISS (NASA image) - RF CafeSince RF Cafe is an electronics-centric website, I would be amiss if not providing some tidbit on soldering in zero gravity conditions. The animated GIF below shows solder flux dancing around the end of a wire while in the International Space Station (ISS). It comes from a NASA website reporting: "There's nothing routine about working in space, as astronaut Mike Fincke found out recently when he did some soldering onboard the International Space Station."



Posted August 24, 2015

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