UC Surgeon Takes Undersea Plunge with NASA in May
Published April 2007
This spring, UC surgeon Timothy Broderick, MD, will dive deep—again—with members of the NASA team to help improve medical care for future space travelers.
Together with astronauts Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, Jose Hernandez and flight surgeon Josef Schmid, Broderick will "splash down" on May 7 as part of the 12th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO).
The crew will spend 12 days submerged aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aquarius Under-water Laboratory off the Florida coast. The undersea environment provides similar conditions to those on the moon, which helps the researchers more accurately gauge the effects of "extreme" environments on equipment and the human body.
NEEMO 12 is just one part of a larger NASA research program aimed at developing and refining medical technologies that can be used to care for sick astronauts during long space voyages. The "aquanauts" will test two remotely controlled surgical robots in a variety of advanced medical experiments, including robotic telesurgery on simulated patients.
Broderick is principal scientist for NEEMO 12, which includes research projects from UC, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, NASA Space and Life Sciences Directorate, SRI International, and the University of Washington.
One UC experiment will test semi-autonomous robots. Unlike today's robotic surgery—in which a surgeon controls every move a robot makes to help him perform tasks—robotic surgery of the future may use robots that are programmed to perform surgeries on their own.
Broderick and his team won't quite be to that point in the NEEMO 12 mission—but they are testing a surgical robot's ability to perform specific important tasks.
"One test might involve equipping the surgical arm with a needle and telling it to drain an abscess," explains Broderick. "But the surgeon will only supervise, not control, the robotic arm."
He says applications refined during the NEEMO 12 mission will help surgeons overcome interplanetary communication lag time and improve the care of astronauts on future missions to the moon and Mars.
"We need to figure out better ways to care for astronauts before we make the long trip to Mars," Broderick says. "Telemedicine and robotic surgery could be key in maintaining the health of future spacefarers and responding to medical emergencies in space."
Piper, commander of the NEEMO 12 mission, says the undersea environment is a great analogue for space.
"This mission will help us prepare for a moon exploration mission," she says. "For example, we need to know how to effectively distribute the weight on a space suit so that we're still able to work. Our underwater 'moon-walking' experiments will help us figure that out."
Piper and the rest of the NEEMO 12 crew recently visited UC for mission kickoff events, including a national crew announcement, biomedical engineering seminar and visits with children at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Shriners Hospital for Children.
For more information visit www.nasa.gov/neemo.