The days of doctors making house calls may seem like ancient history for most patients in North America, but in October, three astronauts and a Canadian doctor will test the latest concepts in long-distance house calls using a unique underwater laboratory.
The ability to conduct long-distance health care such as telemonitoring and telerobotic surgery could be key to maintaining the wellness of future spacefarers and responding to medical emergencies on the International Space Station, the moon or Mars. Techniques will be tested on a simulated patient during the upcoming seventh mission of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project.
Canadian Astronaut Dave Williams will lead a crew on the 10-day undersea mission October 11-20 aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, located off the coast of Key Largo, Fla.
"Astronauts navigating between planets won't be able to turn around and come home when someone gets sick, and this undersea mission will help chart a course for long-distance healing," said NEEMO Project Manager Bill Todd. "Aquarius, with its physical and psychological isolation on the floor of the Atlantic, will provide the real stresses needed to validate telemedicine in an extreme environment," he added
NASA Astronauts Mike Barratt and Cady Coleman, as well as Dr. Craig McKinley of the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, Ontario, will join Williams in the experiment. Williams, Barratt, and McKinley are physicians. Air Force Lt. Col. Coleman holds a Ph.D. in engineering. Two other engineers, James Talacek and Ross Hein of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, will work side-by-side with the crew in Aquarius.
According to Dr. Mehran Anvari, Director of the McMaster University Centre for Minimal Access Surgery at St. Joseph's Healthcare, NEEMO 7 will demonstrate and evaluate innovative technologies and procedures for remote surgery. Anvari, who will be based in Hamilton during the mission, will use two-way telecommunication links to guide the aquanauts through diagnosis and surgery on a mock patient inside Aquarius. Another simulation will involve virtual reality control technology to guide telerobotic surgery on the mock patient.
Similar in size to the International Space Station's living quarters, Aquarius is the world's only permanent underwater habitat and research laboratory. The 45-foot long, 13-foot diameter complex is three miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It rests about 62 feet beneath the surface.
A buoy on the surface provides power, life support and communications capabilities for Aquarius. A shore-based mission control for the Aquarius laboratory in Florida and a control room at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, known as the Exploration Planning Operations Center, will monitor the crew's activities.
Aquarius is owned by NOAA, operated by University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and funded by NOAA's Undersea Research Program. The NEEMO missions are a cooperative project between NASA, NOAA and the University.
Aquarius at NOAA
NEEMO7 at NASA
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