A robot surgeon will soon wield a scalpel on the ISS

This robot will lay the foundation for surgical care in space, which will soon become essential in the context of the new space race.

As the second wave of space conquest advances, humans spend more time in orbit, and this trend is not expected to reverse. Future space tourists, but future Artemis mission astronauts or even colonists who will settle on Mars must prepare for extended stays in space.

This situation is gradually giving rise to new technological challenges, each more difficult to tackle than the other. We can mention for example the supply of food or the maintenance of ships, but above all the medical aspect; Providing care in such an inhospitable environment is not easy.

But there is no question of ignoring this important element of future missions. And to lay the groundwork for future space medicine, NASA will soon send a new type of experimental robot to the International Space Station.

A next-generation miniature robot surgeon

The program is led by Shane Faritor, a professor at the University of Nebraska and co-founder of Virtual Incision Farm. He is a long-time NASA associate who already has considerable experience in the field; He is a great expert in applied robotics in space. In particular, he participated in the design and assembly of Curiosity and Perseverance, the organization’s two star Mars Rovers. He has filed more than 170 patents on advanced mechanical systems.

Engineer Shane Faritor, MIRA’s chief architect, poses next to the machine. © Virtual intersection

He has used this experience for nearly twenty years to develop the Miniaturized In-vivo Robotic Assistant (MIRA). It’s a real miniature bionic surgeon based on a concept that already exists on Earth. The idea is to install a robotic interface between the human practitioner and his patient to significantly improve the accuracy of the operation depending on the professional’s treatment skills.

This advantage, already attractive on Earth, may be even greater in space, where microgravity conditions make tasks particularly difficult; It’s one thing to sew up an artery in the world, it’s another thing to do it when its contents are there Floating freely above the operating table!

Another major advantage is that these robots make it possible to perform surgical tasks less invasive. Specifically, this means that they actively seek to limit the number and size of cuts. A method that Limits the risk of trauma and postoperative complications In the patient world, it has also been proven that this method also makes it possibleSpeed ​​up recovery. This will obviously be a significant advantage in space.

From telemedicine to autonomous surgery

Another plus point is that MIRA can also serve as a telemedicine platform. This would then allow an Earth-based surgeon to operate on the patient without having to join them in space. Again, this would be a considerable advantage; This would allow, for example, Respond to an important emergency if there is a problem with the doctor on board.

In August 2021, the machine validated its first clinical trial by performing its first remote operation. Deployment of the first MIRA aboard the ISS is expected on the horizon 2024. Until then, Farritor and his team will refine the device to get it ready for its first operation… Autonomy !

Because this is indeed Mira’s ultimate purpose; Eventually, its designers hope it will be able to take care of some routine procedures without any human intervention. Again, it will dispense with the services of a human surgeon. But this approach will also have additional benefits. One can cite the incident in particularSave bandwidth Dedicated to communication – an important resource when locked in a pressurized tin can in the middle of a vacuum.

© NASA

Laying the groundwork for space medicine

Astronauts, however, have nothing to worry about; MIRA will not begin skinning them as soon as they arrive at the ISS. He will start getting his hands on model experience. This will test its capabilities Make clean incisions on an elastic material comparable to human skin. He must also be involved in something Mastery exercises.

If this validation is needed, it is not just a matter of engineering and miniaturization; This is also and above all because this machine will suffer Same problem as James Webb (See our article). Although it works perfectly on Earth, its highly precise and subtle mechanisms can be slight Disturbed by vibrations associated with rocket launches… which is the equivalent of a surgeon operating on a neuromotor disorder. You don’t need to be a seasoned professional to understand that this scenario should be avoided at all costs, or risk making an already problematic situation worse.

With a bit of luck, this scenario will make it so Lay the foundation for complete surgical management in microgravity. So the MIRA experiments will be very interesting to follow; This will undoubtedly be important work for the future of space colonization, both on the ISS and on future stations and other planets.

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