/Future Aerospace Medicine: Coming to a Planet Near You

Future Aerospace Medicine: Coming to a Planet Near You

Summary: The past year has shown that medicine and medical treatments aren’t necessarily confined to the doctor’s office. Even as a pandemic shook the world, telemedicine and AI technology helped to ensure people got the care they needed

Original author and publication date: Now (Northrop Grumman) – October 29, 2021

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Exoplanets, exopolitics, exolinguistics, and now exobiology too.

From the article:

In the future, medicine might be even smarter. We could check our blood for infection from the comfort of home. Rather than racing a dehydrated patient to the hospital, we could find a tap and turn plain water into sterile IV fluid. Whenever and wherever we are, medical imaging tools could scan our bodies and send automated read-outs to human and AI medical experts anywhere in the world (or worlds).

That’s the dream for someday on Earth. But it’s already starting right now in space, where aerospace medicine is laying the groundwork for the healthcare of tomorrow — hundreds of miles above ground.

Generation Space Health
Healthcare innovation has been trickling down from orbit for as long as humans have been rocketing up toward it. As part of NASA’s mandate, the organization both funds research and shares its discoveries with the public. A very large number of discoveries have made it possible to safely go to space and back. In the 63 years since NASA’s inception, thousands of patents have launched into successful and life-sustaining patient-facing products.

In order to land on the Moon in 1969, NASA invented digital image processing. That technology was later shared and integrated into a number of devices, including MRI machines and CT scanners. A generation or so later, the Hubble space telescope’s ability to see fine detail at high resolution spun off into a company that made breast biopsy imaging devices. Rather than just looking out, NASA’s technology now looks in to pinpoint possible tumor locations. It also lays at the heart of a series of programmable pacemakers, robotic surgery tools, suture material that can hold an organ together — and currently runs through cables on the International Space Station (ISS).

This high-end healthcare innovation is life-saving but requires something hard to come by on Earth and even harder to find off it: hospitals. In the United States, hospital transit times by ambulance can be measured, from some rural communities, in hours. In bad weather, transport can become impossible. In developing countries and isolated communities, hospital care isn’t an option. In low-Earth orbit, where humans have been living continuously for twenty years, there has never been a hospital. Astronauts in medical distress are evacuated back to Earth.

The concept of “stabilize and transport” works well in space and on Earth only when the patient can survive the trip and the trip is short. Beyond the moon, transport times to a hospital back on Earth stretch out to more than four days. In the high mountains of Peru and Nepal, and in the Antarctic winter, no amount of time may be enough to bring a patient to safety.

This is why bringing healthcare to humans, wherever they are, is the goal of aerospace medicine.

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