As we continue to develop and settle space, accidents and medical emergencies will happen. Soon or later, someone will need to do surgery in space.
Equipment and procedures for surgery in zero and reduced gravity have yet to be developed and tested (a fact that’s often overlooked by advocates of manned deep-space missions), but some work has been done in this field.
Dr. James Burgess, a neurosurgeon at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and an adjunct faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, has invented one such device. The Aqueous Immersion Surgical System is a transparent plastic box that can placed over a wound and pumped full of saline solution. Carefully designed openings keep fluid in while allowing access for for surgical tools. The saline solution is pressurized and controlled to reduce blood loss, which will be critical on space missions where blood for transfusions is limited or unavailable.
AISS is being developed by a team of biomedical engineers and doctors from CMU and the University of Louisville. Prototypes will be tested on four flights of NASA’s C-9 microgravity aircraft on October 2–5. Additional microgravity flights are planned over the next three years. If the tests are successful, AISS may then be tested on a suborbital flight, according to Dr. George Pantalos, professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Louisville.
The nature of surgical experiments requires hands-on access by the surgeon. This is another example of an experiment that can be performed on reusable suborbital spacecraft which cannot be performed on sounding rockets. The development of a robust commercial suborbital spaceflight may, therefore, be a crucial enabler for safe and effective deep-space exploration.