Saturday, January 29, 2011

Space Medicine - Why it's important! **not for the skirmish**

I got an invitation to the opening of the brand new science complex at the Eastern Michigan University last week. A beautiful building with a fantastic new Planetarium in it as well. The building truly boosts new technology in its labs and classrooms and is the home of the departments of Geography and Geology, Psychology, Physics and Astronomy, Biology and Chemistry.


The next day Fuzz, my Pilot and Mission Specialist on our BTS-1 Mission to the Edge of Space, and I were invited to visit a hospital in Detroit. We wanted to get a more behind the scene look and learn various aspects of laboratories within a hospital. We spent time with the Lab Techs, who are truly Medical Technologists. They are highly trained technical professionals with a 4 year degree and their work is usually the first piece of the puzzle in helping a physician diagnosis a patient's condition.

Now why is this important when it comes to Space Travel? Let's take a look:

Space exploration places great physiological and behavioral demands on crew members. Humans involved in space flight must remain healthy in hostile environments and perform a myriad of tasks essential to successfully enabling human exploration missions. Furthermore, when space explorers return to Earth they must be capable of healthy and productive lives.

Space Life Sciences is one area at NASA were they develop, provide, and sustain the medical, environmental, and scientific resources that will enable NASA's capability to pursue human space exploration. This organization within NASA supports so many areas of life science. Here are just a few examples to demonstrate the wide range of areas of science they are studying:

- Acoustics and Noise Control Lab ensures safe, healthy and habitable vehicle acoustic environments in which crews can live, communicate and work.

-Then there is the Animal Care Facility, which takes care and houses for animals used in ground-based life sciences experiments and in training astronauts for in-flight animal experiments.

- Or the Space Radiation Analysis Group, Space Radiation Dosimetry Lab, which supports the human exploration of space within acceptable levels of risk from space radiation.


- The Anthropometry and Biomechanics Facility plays a vital role in ensuring that crew selection is matched well with the design and verification of the space suits, hardware, and vehicle, while also accounting for the full range of accommodation, fit, access, and performance.

- Human Research Program Advanced Food Technology Project is responsible for providing the crews with a food system that will enable safe, reliable, and productive human space exploration.

- EVA Physiology, Systems, and Performance studies how future missions beyond low Earth orbit will present new challenges to crew health, safety, and performance. Among those challenges, crew members will likely need to perform multiple extravehicular activities (EVAs) per week to conduct mission-critical exploration, science, construction, repair and maintenance tasks.

- Bone Laboratory provides comprehensive bone, muscle, and body composition testing and evaluation.

- Tissue Analogues Laboratory provides NASA with 3D tissue analogue capabilities and the testing of normal and neoplastic human and animal tissues subjected to a variety of biological, physical and environmental stressors. This includes dusts, viruses and bacterial infections and more.

- Medical Operations Branch is responsible for providing medical support for all Shuttle and ISS missions.

- Medical Informatics & Health Care Systems Branch is focused on improving on-orbit clinical capabilities.

As you can see these are just a few areas that fall within NASA's Life Science Organization and is an important part of making and maintaining space exploration.

NASA has conducted research on blood in space for many decades. It was learned that the red blood cells effectively carry oxygen while in space. Studies have also been conducted on the white blood cells, especially how they react to space outside of the body in zero gravity and if they became "disoriented" and lost their ability to provide their immune function over time. Which would have meant that astronauts were very susceptible to infections. The question about platelets (their jobs is to ride around in your blood stream looking for any kind of break or injury where they can patch up and prevent bleeding) had to be figured out too... would they perhaps get confused in zero gravity and loose their function?
Mission X is an international educational challenge, focusing on fitness and nutrition, that teaches students how to "train like an astronaut."http://trainlikeanastronaut.org/

STS-40 Payload Specialist Drew Gaffney
performing a blood draw on Payload Specialist
 Millie Hughes-Fulford. Mission Specialist Jim Bagian
 also appearing in this picture.
As we I have talked about in some previous posts - Astronauts on the ISS draw their own blood and do tests and experiments right on the Space Station. So it was truly a good time for Fuzz and I to visit some of the labs here at this hospital.

And I will continue to visit various places and learn about Space Life Science. Stay tuned.



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After looking at the blood a little, Fuzz and Camilla were then introduced to more people as they came back from lunch: This is Luca Visentin, he's one of the lab techs.
We got to meet Dr. Michelle Bonnett who is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist - if you are really sick, your specimens may go to her for further examination to determine the type of illness one may have, such as a form of cancer.
And we ran into Dr. Daniel Snower, who like Dr. Bonnett also is an Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist but he also specializes in Pediatric Pathology so he gets really special cases sometimes. He was working in frozens today and he was really busy. Since he likes Space Exploration he just had to say hi to us






Fuzz was curious how the smears were made, when looking under the microscope he noted that the blood smeared on the plate was A LOT less than what was in the tube so the introduced him to some of the chemicals and tools made for making the smears; in the background, all the multi-colored pipettes are various size micro-liters and milliliters in size.
Inside the Histology Lab, which is were tissue slides are prepped and examined, we got to look at a lung. Usually lungs are nice pink, healthy color but this long obviously was not very healthy. This is what a lung looks like after years of smoking. 
Fuzz decided he wanted to take a closer look at these machines... they would also dye some of the tissue here as well.
Our slides were done! Time to check out our work and determine a diagnosis! The lab had nifty training microscopes where we both could look at their work at the same time!


6 comments:

  1. This CHICK is really helping me learn. She & her bear friend are really creating entertaining & approachable ways for others to step on board the Rocket Ship of knowledge.
    They are just simply Wonderful!
    What a perfect path to helping in the understanding and ability to have a closer connection with science & space.

    Also, I can more understand the tech aspects, it becomes clear just how approachable the space experiences can be, for anyone. Cam certainly helps me continue to cross more of these hurdles successfully.
    Fascinating times & these guys are Incredible, and, for any age. Go SCIENCE!!! 0=)

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