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Very soon, a robot surgeon may begin its practice in orbit — and though it won’t quite be a metallic, humanoid machine wearing a white coat and holding a scalpel, its mission is fascinating nonetheless.
On Tuesday, Jan. 30, scientists sent a number of innovative experiments to the International Space Station (ISS) via Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft. The 8,200 lbs of cargo arrived safely on the ISS last Thursday (Feb. 1).
One of the experiments aboard was a two-pound (0.9 kilogram) robotic device that was about as long as a forearm. It had two controllable hands, each holding a pair scissors and a grasper. Virtual Incision developed this robot doctor to one day be able communicate with doctors on earth while inserting it into astronaut patients to perform medical procedures with high precision.
NASA’s Artemis Program, for instance, hopes to have boots on the moon in 2026 — plus, that’s supposed to pave the way for a day on which humanity can say they’ve reached the Red Planet. These missions will pave the path for a future where humans are able to explore the Red Planet. The deeper you go, the more you will understand space travel, perhaps to Venus or, if we’re really dreaming, beyond the solar system. So to make sure astronauts remain safe in space — an environment they’re literally not made to survive in — scientists want to make sure space-based medical treatment sees advancement in tandem with the rockets that’ll take those astronauts wherever they’re going.
In 2021, NASA Flight Surgeon Josef Schmid “holoported” via HoloLens to the ISS. It’s a bit like virtual reality and FaceTime combined with augmented reality.
The team explains that this robotic surgery mission can benefit both those who live on Earth and those who are exploring space. Farritor explained that a surgeon who is very skilled could dial in to different locations and assist with telesurgery. “Only 10% of operating rooms are robotic today, but we see no reason why that shouldn’t increase to 100%.”
This would be of particular importance to hospitals in rural regions where specialists are scarce and operating rooms are few. Farritor explains that Virtual Incision has been funded by NASA and the military. “Both groups are interested in doing surgery in crazy places,” Farritor said. “Our small robots lend themselves to mobility.”
What else did you see?
Other experts spoke about what they sent to space on Monday during the same presentation that Farritor gave on Virtual Incision.
For one, the doctor has a robot friend joining it in the orbital laboratory — a robotic arm. The team has already tested this arm within the constraints of the station, but they hope to test it under fully unpressurized circumstances with this new mission.
May Murphy, director of programs for NanoRacks, said that the first investigation consisted of unplugging, replugging and moving objects. “We are stepping it up a notch… we will be switching off the tools we use, we can use screwdrivers analogs and stuff like that. This will allow us to do more work.”
She continued, “We can even look beyond just removing something that the crew will have to work on.” “Now, we have the capability to do additional work in harsher environment we don’t want to expose the team to.”
The following are some of the ways to get in touch with each other: European Space Agency, meanwhile sent a 3D printer that can create small parts of metal. The goal is to compare the 3D-printed metallic structure in space to that of Earth-based 3D printed metal. The same reason will be used to test 3D-printed transistors, which are key components in most electronic devices.
“When we think about vehicles in orbit for longer periods without being able able to bring up and down supplies, we need the ability to print these smaller parts in the space, to help maintain the integrity of the vehicle with time,” said Meghan E. Everett. NASA’s ISS Program Deputy Scientist.
Everett said that this could also be a way for scientists to learn if certain materials, which aren’t 3D printable on Earth, can be 3D printed in space. She said that preliminary data indicates that we can produce better products in the space compared to Earth, which would directly translate into better electronics and energy producing capabilities.
Another experiment, launched on Monday, looks at the effects microgravity has on bone loss. Known by MABL-AThis study will examine how the mesenchymal cell (associated with the bone marrow), may change in the presence of the space environment. This could offer insight into astronaut bone loss — a well-documented, major issue for space explorers — as well as into the dynamics of human aging. Abba Zubair is a Mayo Clinic professor of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology. She said, “We will also examine the genes involved in bone formation as well as how gravity affected them.”
Lisa Carnell spoke about the Apex-10 Mission, which she also directed, and will examine how plant microbes interacted in space. This could also help to decode how we can increase plant productivity here on Earth.
Computers and retinas
Two of the other key experiments discussed during the presentation included a space computer and an artificial eye — well, an artificial retina, to be exact. Let’s begin with the latter.
Nicole Wagner, CEO at LambdaVision has a lofty goal: to restore vision to millions of blinded patients who are suffering from retinal degenerative diseases such as macular degeneration or retinitis Pigmentosa.
In order to do this, she is working with her team on a “protein-based artificial retina” that’s constructed through a process called “electrostatic Layer-by-Layer Deposition.” This is a process that involves depositing multiple layers a particular kind of protein onto scaffold. Wagner said to think of the scaffold as a tightly-woven piece of gauze.
Gravity can, however, impede the process of refraction on Earth. Any imperfections in the layers will ruin the performance of the artificial retina. So … what about in microgravity? She says that LambdaVision has already flown eight missions to the ISS and the experiments have proven that microgravity can produce more homogeneous layers, and therefore better thin film for the retina.
She said that “in this mission, we’re looking to send a powdered bacteriorhodopsin form to the ISS, which will then be resuspended in a solution. We will be using special tools, in this case spectrometers to look at the quality and purity of the protein on the International Space Station as well as validate this process used for getting the protein into solution.”
Imagine that doctors could someday order artificial retinas in space to be created, and then sent to Earth to be implanted into a patient. This whole process could restore someone’s sight?
Mark Fernandez posed a question about the space computer. “Astronauts perform a spacewalk. After their work day is over, the gloves are inspected for wear and tear,” he explained. “This is something that every astronaut must do after every spacewalk. The gloves cannot be used again until this is done.”
Fernandez explains that the team normally takes high-resolution photos of the gloves to be tested, and then sends them out for analysis.
He says that this analysis takes about five days to complete and return. In an effort to solve the issue, the team created a model using AI in collaboration NASA and Microsoft. This model can perform the analysis on the station itself and flag areas that are of concern. Each takes approximately 45 seconds. He said that they would reduce the time it takes to do DNA analysis from five days to a few moments. Normally, he said, this would have taken months.
This will allow the team to ensure that Spaceborne Computer-2’s servers function properly while on board the ISS. This will allow the team to test whether Spaceborne Computer-2’s servers will function properly on the ISS. Mark the company third ISS mission.
Carnell said that the ISS National Lab is a great asset to our country. “It opens up a world of possibilities for the next generation” of scientists and engineers.
Original Posting Date Space.com.