No matter how mentally and physically prepared they are, future astronauts headed to deep space will not be able to escape the limitations they must pass through, CNET reports. At some point during their long, isolated journey, these pioneers may need medical attention. But that’s hard – in space, there are no hospitals. On Tuesday, scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said the small surgical robot they invented – called the Mini Internal Robotic Assistant, or MIRA – will be on board the International Space Station in 2024 for zero-gravity testing.
Eventually, the team hopes that MIRA will accompany astronauts to Mars and operate in untouched outer space.
“As people go further and further into space, one day they may need to have surgery. We’re working toward that goal,” said Shane Farritor, an engineering professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-founder of Virtual Incision, the company behind MIRA, in a statement.
The 2-pound robot basically looks like a white stick with two small arm-like attachments on one end. These attachments are adorned with two metal instruments. It is the product of nearly 20 years of development – since its founding in 2006, Virtual Incision has received more than $100 million in venture capital investment. In addition, NASA recently awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln $100,000 to make the device ready for the 2024 journey.
According to a press release about the robotic “surgeon,” MIRA has helped perform important surgeries. Doctors have successfully used the instrument to perform minimally invasive colectomies, which involve, for example, removing part or all of a patient’s colon.
If the MIRA works well in space, surgeons on the ISS could use the technology to help astronauts who need medical assistance without posing a significant risk to their bodies. MIRA could be particularly important given the lack of personnel, time and tools on board the spacecraft.
Beyond that, the team says its technology could also allow surgeons on the ground to work remotely on astronaut patients in space. As a proof of principle, NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson took control of the robot at Johnson Space Center in Houston, guiding MIRA to perform surgery-like tasks in the operating room at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, 900 miles away. It worked.
This remote control aspect of MIRA may also help to one day perform surgery closer to home – one example the team cites is injured soldiers in the field who need advanced surgery and who request specialists stationed elsewhere. In fact, with this in mind, the U.S. Army has provided some funding for the MIRA program.
By 2024, we will have a better idea of how MIRA will perform in an intense situation. If MIRA can withstand the intense pushing and shoving that accompanies a rocket launch, it will reach the International Space Station and be quickly loaded into the station’s experiment cabinet. According to the team, it could take up to a year for the astronauts conducting the science experiments to put it into service. Then, once it is turned on, the robotic device will operate almost autonomously.
Farritor said, “The astronauts flick a switch, the program starts, and the robot does its job on its own. Two hours later, the astronaut turns it off and it’s done.”
Recently, extraterrestrial surgery has become more of a topic of conversation as the space agency aims to send humans to other planets and proposes new forms of transportation to deep space. medicine as part of its efforts to advance telemedicine. Combined with MIRA, this mechanism suggests that one day life may actually mimic Star Trek when it comes to health care.