Blood in Zero Gravity: NASA Tries to Prepare for Surgery in Space

Zero gravity and bodily fluids are a dangerous combination.

astroblood.jpg

Astronaut Richard Linnehan prepares to draw blood from astronaut Charles Brady on board the Space Shuttle Columbia (NASA).

Notes and Dispatches from the Frontiers of Creativity
See full coverage

If humans are to one day explore beyond our moon -- to Mars, for example -- there are some pretty huge logistical hurdles that will need to be overcome. How do you prepare and package food that will last for a two-year mission? What do you do with the waste humans create?

And here's another: What happens if one of the humans has a medical emergency and needs surgery? As Carnegie Mellon professor James Antaki told New Scientist, "Based on statistical probability, there is a high likelihood of trauma or a medical emergency on a deep space mission."

This is not just a matter of whether you'll have the expertise on board to carry out such a task. Surgery in zero gravity presents its own set of potentially deadly complications.

Think about how hard it is to pee in zero gravity: You need a funnel and a tube that siphons your urine to a sewage tank. Without those tools: Urine everywhere. Consider the difficulties of brushing your teeth. It took astronaut Leroy Chiao three paragraphs to explain that process, and it involved bungee cords, drink bags, and velcro.

In zero gravity, blood and bodily fluids will not just stay put, in the body where they belong. Instead, they could contaminate the entire cabin, threatening everybody on board.

surgery_in_space_2_201x201.jpg

This week, NASA is testing a device known as the Aqueous Immersion Surgical System (AISS) that could possibly make space surgery possible. Designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Louisville, AISS is a domed box that can fit over a wound. When filled with a sterile saline solution, a water-tight seal is created that prevents fluids from escaping. It can also be used to collect blood for possible reuse. "You won't have a blood bank in space, so if there is bleeding you want to save as much blood as you can," one of the researchers, James Burgess, told New Scientist.

If it works well enough, that will be one more thing ticked off the pre-Mars to-do list.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Technology

Just In