25 September 1995
News - Other (Good)
UPDATE: Surgery in Space
Where no scalpel has gone before
by Carol Pinchefsky
by Carol Pinchefsky

In an European Space Agency-funded flight, French doctors will be performing surgery in a zero-gravity environment, thanks to an Airbus modified for parabolic flights. According to this New Scientist article, these doctors have been rehearsing for the procedure for eight months and will use magnetically fastened instruments.

This is a logical first step toward the field of practical space medicine.

If there are unanticipated complications, the patient can be back on Earth in a few minutes. While this flight is important as a test of zero-g surgery, the question of how weightlessness would effect recovery time of a patient is far more interesting: Weightless conditions should make it much easier for a body to recover from surgery, as the heart does not have to pump blood against gravity. However, a test of how humans recover in a weightless environment can only be performed on the International Space Station or the Shuttle.

If this surgery is successful, this will go toward establishing medical facilities in space, which may lead to a permanent human outpost.


According to a follow-up article, the surgery, to remove a benign tumour from the arm of a volunteer, was a success.

Doctors performed their operation during weightlessness, which was achieved in 20-second bursts during a parabolic flight. Because of interruptions, namely the rise and fall of the Airbus, it took 32 passes to complete the procedure.

While minor surgery can be performed, doctors said they may have difficulty during more complex procedures. However, team leader Dominique Martin said, "If we'd had two hours of zero gravity at a stretch, we could have removed an appendix."
Share |
Carol Pinchefsky 25 September 1995
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.