Can We Perform Surgery in Space? – Science In The Extremes

What happens if an astronaut gets sick or
injured in space? On the moon, you’re over three days away,
or on Mars you could be as much as eight months away. Not everybody on a crew to Mars is going to be a physician. You have to be able to operate autonomously. Dr. George Pantalos and the team at University
of Louisville are working with NASA, Carnegie Mellon University,
and Baylor College of Medicine to develop novel ways to perform complicated procedures in near-zero gravity. When you’re working in weightlessness, it
completely changes how you interact with your instruments, how you interact with your supplies and equipment, how you interact with your patient. Whoever is providing the care has to be somehow or another fixed in place, as does the patient, so that you can interact
with them successfully and safely. In addition to overcoming the challenges of
weightlessness, the team has to consider the size, shape, and efficiency of medical tools. You can only take so much with you given the
thrust capabilities of the launch vehicle, the power, the volume available for storage
in the spacecraft, and everything. As we’re starting to anticipate using a robot
as a surgical assistant during a spaceflight, might we need to redesign some of the surgical
tools, both to make them easy for the robot to identify visually, as well as to pick up
with their fingers, and to then hand it to the surgeon when the surgeon needs it, or
to manipulate the instrument themselves? George and his students have brainstormed
and built several answers to the challenge of space medicine, from fluid containment
to 3D-printing. When we’re working in weightlessness, especially
when we’re doing new procedures and working with new materials, and materials that might
be hazardous, we want to make sure that they don’t get out into the rest of the environment. A glove box is a container that you put an
object in to keep it from getting away, simply put, or to provide special treatment. We’ve
had to create a very brand-new glove box that will fit in the size limitation of the suborbital
spacecraft. During surgery on the earth, you might have
one instrument to provide suction, you might have another instrument to provide cautery.
We’ve created an instrument that combines all of those things together, so in one instrument
the surgeon, at the push of a button, can do suction, irrigation, illumination, and
eventually will be able to do cautery. We’ve developed a hemispherical dome, that
you can put over the location of where the surgery is going to take place to contain
surgical fluids. With wound waste recovery, the idea is to recover all of these fluids
and try to filter it and treat it. The output from that would be drinkable water, sterile
water, or sterile saline. Which sounds gross, but could help support
astronauts on long term space missions. For an exploration space mission, there will
be some kind fabrication module onboard that can 3D print plastics, polymers, metals, tissue,
electronics, and hybrid materials. Those materials can be recycled and put back into the source
material storage to 3D-print for some other tool, or a replacement part that might come
up needed later in the mission. Once George and his team are ready to test
out their new designs, they’ll travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where
they’ll test their tools on the NASA zero-G plane. The preparation for a test flight with NASA
is pretty intensive, but once you get up in the air and you actually start to see things
work, that’s when things get really exciting and lots of fun. Working in weightlessness
is such a unique experience, even though it’s challenging, it’s also very pleasant. Though it takes several years for the designs
to be tested and approved by the FDA, George’s research is paving the way for safer and more
feasible human space travel. If we can accomplish this kind of medical
care during an exploration space mission, there is a good chance we could do it, let’s
say, on a lunar colony that’s been established for visitors to come and visit the moon. Now, as it turns out, medical tools and instruments
and monitors that are going to be used in spaceflight could potentially be very beneficial to make surgical procedures back on the ground go a lot better. For more episodes of Science in the Extremes,
check out this one right here. Don’t forget to subscribe and come back to Seeker for more episodes. Thanks for watching!


  1. please of a video on special forces like navy seals,SAS, etc about there history ,current status,missions carried out etc

  2. One answer for one of my million evening thoughts thank you! The music during the video was a little bit too overwhelming. Keep the good work guys 🙂

  3. Look, as long as I only have to break all the ribs and rip all other organs out to do a heart replacement, it cant be that hard

  4. Love these TV-quality productions.
    One question though. How can a surgeon on Earth operate remotely via a robot (as brushed on in this video) if there is a huge comms delay? The sun is about 8 light minutes away and if Mars is on the other side of the Sun then it would be over twice as bad as that.

  5. Rocket Science AND Brain Surgery… can't ask for a more apt metaphor for something more complicated than complicated.

  6. I don’t think I’d be happy as an astronaut if there wasn’t a doctor/surgeon on every mission in case my appendix or something decided to give up the ghost! 😬

  7. This is so f***ing cool!
    I could easily imagine how a surgical tool that encompass all these functions can be utilized in areas where it's limited how much equipment it's possible to bring!

  8. Unless an astronaut is on a "stranger" planet, I don't think that an astronaut can get sick
    He could get injured, but how get sick? There are no extra bacteria on the spaceship that could hurt him (e.g. flu), or are there?

  9. Ahhhh it's pleasuring to see the surgeons are floating… While doing that challenging job 😅😂 LIKE A BOSS!!

  10. I hope this research and innovation doesn't go to waste if/when we come up with a way to easily create artificial gravity on a spaceship.

  11. Great video but can you not put the pictures of the actual surgeries or at least give a warning? I didn't want to start my day by seeing intestines.

  12. Just have the space station spin to mimic gravityhave boots that grip the floor. Use a magnet to hold your tools, also blood, then pray you make it👍😎

  13. Wow this is something I haven't thought about before. Could you imagine how horribly messy that could be if it wasn't fully contained!

  14. Imagine accidentally nicking an artery in zero G! If there wasn't the walls of the craft to stop it, the blood would probably end up eventually shooting past the outer planets and head right on out of the solar system to the Oort Cloud and beyond! Isn't science fun to think about?? So cool.

  15. Blood floating everywhere. Organs levitating out of body. That one doctor who recently lost their mind popping a boner and barely holding back from molesting to surgical opening. I want to do this with my life

  16. Why did you stop sharing channels of other science YouTubers on your "channel" tab. I use to see so many others. =/ Really feels like there was a sell out.

  17. No bed sores or pressure points. Bad calcium depletion. Muscle wasting. Gamma ray exposure. Add to the list.

  18. As you see water glob into a sphere, or watch the demos of tears or water in hair, you start to see one of the trickiest aspects that doctors will have to adapt to: if you cut "a bleeder", the blood isn't going to sink, it will both bind and float away. While you can help contain the mess with the boxes and hemispheres, it creates new challenges when you try to view the injury so as to fix it. Better stock up on the sponges as suction only takes you so far.

  19. OMG… what am I doing with my life? These people are creating surgery in space… I'm sitting on a couch.
    I need to step it up… at least a little bit. LOL

  20. Most interesting. Moving emergency medicine and surgery into space. This is something that will be extremely crucial as we plan for longer periods in space as well as colonies on the Moon and Mars.

  21. Space tech constantly trickles down to the consumer level. People say space is a waste we need to take care of earth problems first yet space tech constantly does just that. Smh

  22. What kind of a question is this? "Um, no. Scalpels don't work in space, and neither does laser cauterization or sutures. OF COURSE one can perform surgery in space. You might need a surgery table to which you'll strap your patient, feet straps for the surgeons, and a surgery environment bag that will catch blood. The surgeons will probably need to be on full-mask respirators to prevent inhalation or eye/mucus membrane contact with floating droplets of blood. But can it be done? Absolutely.

  23. Seems like remote robotic surgery would be the way to go. Even if the doctor is in the next room, a fixed robotic arm wouldn't have the same issues of compensating for inertia that humans would have to deal with.

  24. So what? Every time some sees a swiss flag everybody thinks medicine? (See thumbnail) it's true we have one of the biggest Pharma industry in the world but common 🤔 it's called "red cross" not "white cross" on a red background

  25. Can we? CAN we?

    We'll have to. One way or another.

    Better start learning how. Better get the equipment for low or zero gravity working NOW.

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