What should I do if I have a heart attack during the space journey to Mars?
In the work of astronauts, Dealing with situations beyond the scope of ordinary human experience is an essential part. Even so, we can still imagine the mood of the astronauts of the International Space Station when they were diagnosed with venous thrombosis for the first time during space flight. Of course, it is uncomfortable to find a blood clot in the jugular vein at any time or place, but if it is more than 400 kilometers away from the surface of the earth, it is really inconvenient.
Fortunately, the International Space Station is equipped with anticoagulant drugs to deal with this potential life threat. Nevertheless, halfway through the treatment, the astronaut’s medication dose had to be reduced by one-third to wait for more medications from the replenishment spacecraft. A few months later, the unidentified astronaut returned to Earth and later fully recovered.
In January 2020, the New England Journal of Medicine published a paper describing the details of this incident. It can be said that the successful conclusion of the incident was largely due to the fact that the astronauts maintained regular contact with medical professionals on the earth and could obtain medication supplies. Imagine that if it were the first mission to Mars, the astronauts might be faced with the problem of not having a supply spacecraft and unable to make a fast call with the earth.
“Ultimately, we will have to take some major risks, especially if we want to go beyond Earth’s orbit,” said Jonathan Scott, head of the European Space Agency’s medical projects and technical team. “This is who we are Work to reduce the risk as much as possible.”
Obviously, reducing risk is not an easy task, because space is a very dangerous place. Even wearing a spacesuit increases the risk of astronauts drowning and nail loss. When moving outside the Earth’s atmosphere, astronauts will be exposed to radiation. The consequences are not fully understood, but it is unlikely to be safe. Weightlessness may be interesting, but it can also cause a series of problems, including bone and muscle loss. The eyesight of some astronauts began to decline. With the longer time spent in space, all these issues become more and more urgent.
The most important thing is that astronauts, like us on Earth, will also encounter various health problems, but they cannot easily go to the hospital for treatment. NASA lists about 100 diseases that may occur in space, including toothache, nosebleeds, spinal fractures, and chemical burns. For the astronauts of the International Space Station, it is still possible to return to Earth after illness, but if it is on the way to Mars, the situation becomes quite tricky. It takes about three years to travel to and from Mars, which means that if there is a medical emergency on the way, the astronauts must help each other and treat each other.
If you have a cardiac arrest on the way to Mars, you can rest assured that the researchers have considered how to perform CPR in space (one method is to put your feet against the ceiling and your arms Press down on the patient’s chest). Due to the age range and good physical fitness of astronauts, they are unlikely to suffer a stroke or sudden appendicitis. This is important because if these things happen, they will fall into what Jonathan Scott calls “ineffective medical treatment”. In other words, no one can do anything about it.
On the International Space Station, when a medical accident occurs, astronauts can ask for the expertise of many medical experts from NASA. Scott said: “The patient is on the space station and the doctor is on the ground. If there is a problem, the patient can consult these doctors.” When the astronaut arrives on Mars, there will be a 40-minute delay if it is possible to communicate with the Earth. Scott said: “We must start preparing, not only to be able to diagnose health problems that may occur during space flight, but also to be able to treat them.”
Artificial intelligence may be a good solution, but if What you imagine is a holographic doctor like in “Star Trek”, please lower your expectations, this may not be possible in the next few decades. Chris Linhart, a scientist in charge of exploring medical capabilities in space at NASA, said: “We still need many, many years to achieve this goal. At present, we can only (let the astronauts) explain the nature of the medical emergency.”
Emanuel Uqueta is the deputy chief scientist of the Institute for Transformation in Space Health (TRISH). The institute is one of the projects funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, mainly researching medical services for deep space missions. Although it will take time to fully implement artificial intelligence diagnosis and treatment, Uquita believes that some form of artificial intelligence can still play a key role. “This is crucial for the Mars mission,” he said. Although there may be a doctor among the astronauts on the Mars mission, Uquita explained: “No doctor can know everything. And, what if that astronaut gets sick?”
TRISH Funded research projects include “Butterfly iQ”, a handheld ultrasonic diagnostic device that can be used by non-medical personnel, which is very practical, especially in the absence of huge equipment and well-trained operators. Another diagnostic tool is VisualDx, which has considerable artificial intelligence and was originally developed to analyze images and identify skin conditions. At present, this technology has been used to help astronauts diagnose the most common conditions in space without the need to connect to the Internet.
Reducing the number and size of medical equipment, as well as the level of expertise required to use these equipment, will be the key to mankind’s landing on Mars. Another key is to maintain a sufficient amount of consumable medical supplies. At present, almost everything needed by astronauts in space is brought from the earth (most of the drinking water on the International Space Station is recovered from wastewater, including the astronaut’s own sweat and urine).
A NASA study concluded that a spacecraft heading to Mars should store 248 liters of intravenous fluid, which would occupy a lot of valuable space on the spacecraft. Therefore, in the past ten years, NASA has been committed to using drinking water to make intravenous fluids. Researchers are currently improving this technology so that it can be used on Mars missions. Linhart said: “You may meet a sick or injured person on the way to Mars. The astronaut turns on the water supply system and hangs a bag on the tap. After five minutes, you will be able to get the full amount. A full bag of sterile intravenous injection.”
As can be seen from the previous thrombotic incident on the International Space Station, maintaining adequate drug supplies is also a problem. Part of the reason is the limited space in the medicine cabinet of the spacecraft. On the other hand, the degradation rate of the medicine in space is faster than that on the earth, which may be caused by exposure to radiation. Moreover, astronauts often need to take a lot of drugs. A 2017 study of astronauts on the International Space Station found that astronauts take four drugs on average every week.
Phil Williams is a professor of biophysics at the University of Nottingham in the UK, leading the world’s first space drug research project. His team is studying the immune system and antibiotic resistance in the space environment, and has sent nematodes to the International Space Station to study muscle breakdown under microgravity.
Williams and his colleagues are also studying how to solve the problem of drug supply. He said: “We are looking for ways to produce drugs on-site and on-demand.” By screening out radiation-resistant bacteria The type of protein that can be made and paired with the DNA of protein drugs, Williams’ team successfully produced more drugs in test tubes. Williams said that in the future, the use of 3D printing technology can even “use a black box, enter what you want, and then you can take out the medicine.”
This technology may be available on the first mission to Mars, but it may not be that fast. If humans want to colonize other planets, we need to go further than just producing drugs in space. This may involve 3D printing medical technology and more advanced surgical tools, and even replaceable organs; scientists are currently studying the possibility of 3D printing a human heart on the International Space Station.
The ultimate goal of scientists is to study how to use the least resources to treat diseases in space. This is essential for deep space exploration. On the other hand, this has many applications on Earth. After all, if we can reduce “ineffective treatments” in space, we can also apply them to similar scenarios on Earth. “If we can treat humans on Mars, then we can start treatment anywhere,” Williams said. “In Antarctica, in submarines, in UNHCR camps in Africa, in small local hospitals. The place of treatment becomes less important.” (Ren Tian)