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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 17:48 GMT
Astronauts get lessons in surgery
leg op, BBC
Astronauts will learn to do complex operations like this
The American space agency, Nasa, is teaming up with surgeons to develop a system that could allow it to train its astronauts to operate on each other.

On long missions in the future, astronauts could be many months from the nearest operating theatre.

At a scientific meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday, researchers revealed details of a joint project to help Nasa crews perform bone re-alignment, and other techniques which remove the need to put the injured limb in plaster.

Their virtual reality simulator will help the astronauts get to grips with the anatomies of legs and arms without having to pick up a scalpel.

Clamped bone

Nasa already has expertise in the development of such simulators to help its astronauts train for other tasks.


An injured astronaut cannot return to earth within a sensible time scale since the journey takes several months

Dr Andy Weymann, AO
The technique being taught involves clamping the broken bone in the right position using internal plates.

It has the advantage that weight can be put on an affected leg far more swiftly than if the limb is set in plaster.

Partnering Nasa in the project is AO, an international organisation of orthopaedic surgeons, and much of the research will be carried out at a university in Zurich.

Long wait

Dr Andy Weymann, chief information officer at AO, and himself an orthopaedic surgeon, said: "Simulation is expected to play an important role in the planned Mars mission, which is now becoming increasingly realistic.

"The aim of this co-operation is to develop a simulator on which astronauts can learn to perform operations on one another in case one of them is injured in space.

"An injured astronaut cannot return to Earth within a sensible timescale, since the journey takes several months.

"The crew must therefore be in a position to treat themselves on the spot and in the spaceship."

He said it might be possible to teach astronauts to fix fractures, but many other orthopaedic procedures would remain beyond them.

However, he hoped that the simulator could also help surgeons fine-tune their craft outside the operating theatre.

See also:

28 Jul 01 | Health
Stretching a leg - day by day
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