• Question: Has anyone had to have a operation in space?

    Asked by Anon to Kevin, Katie, Jon, Jean-François, Floris, Delma, Claudie, Beth, Adrian on 27 Dec 2015.
    • Photo: Adrianos Golemis

      Adrianos Golemis answered on 27 Dec 2015:

      Hello, Anon, Merry Xmas. As far as i know, no, no major operation has taken place in space so far. With today’s Astronauts orbiting the Earth in what we call “Low Earth Orbit” (LEO), there is an evacuation plan for such cases. It takes between a few hours and 2 days for an Astronaut to evacuate the International Space Station (ISS) and to be received in a hospital on the ground (depending on conditions). So it is always safer to operate on the ground.

      This might be a more important issue for future human missions, though, like the ones that may carry Astronauts to Mars one day. In that case the journey is very long (~3 years to go and return) and the crew has no chance evacuation. Although Astronauts are screened to lower the odds of having to receive an operation before flight, no one can rule out an emergency.

      The situation is very similar in space analogue environments, like in Antarctica. Although rare, there have been cases of people who had to be operated on, sometimes not by specialists, in isolated environments in order to survive. In our European Concordia research Station both doctors who stay there in isolation receive some training in tele-medicine / tele-operation, a clever technique to operate with the assistance of experts in Europe if the need arises.

    • Photo: Kevin Fong

      Kevin Fong answered on 6 Jan 2016:

      Fortunately not. The crews are selected so that they are unlikely to get sick and need medicine or surgery and the environment is engineered to reduce – as far as possible – the risk of injury while on mission.

      It is technically possible to do some types of surgery in space, NASA has done some work evaluating the possibilities, but it’s really best avoided!

    • Photo: Claudie Haignere

      Claudie Haignere answered on 25 Jan 2016:

      There were small surgical procedures (such as objects in the eye, wounds, cuts and dental problems). There is a surgical kit on board and we are trained. If there is a true emergency, after consulting the ground medical team, the decision may be taken to evacuate the Station, undocking the Soyuz as a rescue vehicle.