* Editor’s Note: Normally we have the Autonomous Mission Operation commander for the day post a blog, but two simulated medical emergencies kept the crew busy today. So, instead, we have an entry from Victor Hurst. Victor is a research scientist in space medicine at Johnson Space Center, as well as the AMO ultrasound guinea pig — whenever there’s a simulated medical emergency, he plays the indisposed patient, on whom the Crew Medical Officer performs an ultrasound.
By Victor Hurst, space medicine research scientist
When you are not feeling well, you usually hop into a car or some other earth-based vehicle and take yourself to the doctor, right? Astronauts taking part in an exploration class space mission far away from this planet cannot do that.
The exploration of space has been limited to low earth orbit since man last walked on the moon in December 1972. As this country plans to re-start its exploration of space, perhaps past the moon, the space program must prepare its astronaut crews to manage medical events, both planned and unplanned, during their missions. Why? Maintenance of crew health is paramount towards maximizing human performance and, subsequently, mission success. To do so, the program needs to develop a specific level of medical capability that will fulfill this need.
In order to understand the capability that is needed to maintain and treat crew members during exploration class space missions, the Autonomous Mission Operation (AMO) within the Deep Space Habitat (DSH) here at the NASA-Johnson Space Center (JSC) allows us to take an initial look on treating medical conditions relevant to exploration space flight. In doing these tests, we can identify what equipment and procedures are needed for such missions. More importantly, we can determine what level of training is needed in order for crew to autonomously manage their medical issues without seriously impacting the tasks needed to complete their mission.
Crew Medical Officers (CMO) are astronauts that are trained to be the medical caregivers for crew during each mission. Since only about 10% of the astronaut corps are formally trained physicians, we need to develop specialized training and clinical tools that will enable non-physician CMOs (i.e. laymen) to properly manage medical events during these types of missions. Some folks let us know, “Hey, why don’t you just fly a doctor like Bones McCoy on the 1960s TV show Star Trek?” That’s a great idea but what happens if it is the doctor who becomes ill? Because of this possibility, the emphasis is to provide training, procedures, equipment and other resources to CMOs who are not formally-trained clinicians in order for them to properly manage medical events in the absence of doctor.
The AMO Tests within the DSH are enabling NASA Space Medicine to identify techniques and technology that will help CMOs maintain crew health and optimize crew performance for exploration class space missions. These tests also enable NASA to use innovation to expand the standard of medical care for not only these types of missions but also for all us down here on this planet.
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