How To Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem

Astronaut Chris Hadfield with biomedical equipment attached to his forehead. Credit: Chris Hadfield.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is scheduled to launch on Decemer 19 with crewmates Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko on a Soyuz rocket, heading for a long-duration 5-month mission on board the International Space Station. We’re taking a look back at his 2-plus years of training for this mission, which Hadfield shared via Twitter and Facebook, letting the public get an inside look at what it takes to prepare for a long-duration spaceflight.

The movie “The Right Stuff” depicted the grueling array of medical tests the early astronauts had to undergo in order to determine if they had… well, the right stuff to go into space. Now, more than 50 years later, with scientists and the medical community knowing quite a bit more about how the human body reacts to micro-gravity, the pre-flight medical procedures aren’t quite as intrusive. But astronaut Chris Hadfield says it is still part of being an astronaut.

“They do a nice job of telling how hard it is going to be, how invasive,” he said in an interview with Universe Today, “but none of that matters when it’s time to go to bed at night, when you’ve got six different probes stuck in you or a loud machine next to you, and you know you you’re not going to get a good night’s sleep.”

“Whether you are flying a spaceship or a T-38, it is good to be prepared,” Hadfield said, along with posting this image via Twitter.

Another part of medical training is having a forced special diet where “you have to document everything you eat, evaluating what happens at the other end,” Hadfield explained, “and they try to be as good and non-invasive as they can, but by its very nature it is invasive, and that’s the way it is.”

Hadfield said he knew about this going into the job. “It is absolutely part of the business so it is OK,” he said.

Hadfield participating in the VC Reflex test, an experiment for orthostatic hypotension, or dizzyness from low blood pressure, one of the most common physical complications of spaceflight. “Space Science: applying electricity behind the ears affects balance and thus blood pressure regulation,” Hadfield said.

Not only are there pre-flight medical tests and procedures, but all space station crew members undergo continual medical tests and evaluations during their time in orbit, becoming test subjects for various experiments as well as keeping tabs on their health while in space.

“We do regular urine, saliva collection and blood draws. We have to be able to take blood from each other or yourself. If you’ve never taken blood from yourself…” Hadfield said, letting the sentence trail off. Fun? Not so much.

“Astronaut physical for Space Station today – 18 tubes and a squeeze ball”

Thankfully, the astronauts don’t always have to poke themselves. “We have volunteers come in all the time and let me stick them with a needle so I can get good at drawing blood,” Hadfield said, “and we do a lot of ultrasounds – carotid artery and cardiac ultrasounds. We need to identify any changes that take place in the heart after extended zero-g. This is all very important for going beyond Earth orbit; we need to understand those changes.”

A day of medical training with dummies. “Somehow the sock makes it worse,” Hadfield said via Twitter.

Not only do the crew have to do medical tests on themselves, but they have to be prepared for any medical emergency, since there usually isn’t a dedicated medical doctor on the space station. However, Hadfield considers himself lucky: crewmate Marshburn is a medical doctor.

“There are various ways to get ill on board – some natural, like appendicitis, stroke, — or you could be in an accident.” Hadfield said, “Someone could bang their head coming around a corner, get pinched between equipment, get the bends coming in from a spacewalk, or be exposed to poisonous gas. Various things can happen.”

“We have full-911 capability on board,” Hadfield continued. “We can react, we can strap someone down, get them on oxygen, inject them with things to get their heart going again, or use defibrillators. We need to know how to intubate people and give them forced breathing. We need to know how to react.”

Medical training includes practicing emergency medical procedures such as stitches.

They have small pharmacy on board, and need to know a lot of procedures. “Of course we always have medical help on-call from the ground, but you could easily have to deal with a burn or something in an eye, so I’ve trained working in an emergency room at a hospital in Houston,” Hadfield said, doing things from making a quick diagnosis to inserting catheters or IVs, or sewing stitches on wounds “ so I can get comfortable doing those things to the human body.”

Astronauts on the ISS practicing CPR: “How do you give CPR without gravity to hold you down? Like this!,” Tweeted Hadfield.

This video shows some of the emergency medical training the crew receives:

Next: Astronaut Food

Additional articles in this series:
How to Train for Long Duration Space Flight with Chris Hadfield
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Eating in Space
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: The Soyuz

Could the Next Planetary Rover Come from Canada?

Prototype of the new Juno rover, a 300 kg rover for a mission to Mars or the Moon. Credit: CSA

The Canadian Space Agency is well known for its robotics but they’ve recently expanded from robotic arms to building prototypes for five new rovers, designed for future lunar and Mars missions. They range from microrovers to full-sized science missions and range in size from 30 kg up to 900 kg. The largest of them, the Lunar Exploration Light Rover, is designed to carry a scientific payload and can be fitted with a robotic arm. It has a range of 15 km, can be operated remotely, or can be used to carry astronauts across a planetary surface.

A version of the Juno rover with tires. Credit: CSA

The two Micro-Rover prototypes, at 40 kg and 30 kg., are designed to be operated in conjunction with larger rovers, and can be tethered to them and lowered into otherwise inaccessible areas.

“On the Moon, permanently shadowed craters provide many interesting areas to find water and other volatiles, Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, Director of Space Exploration Development at the Canadian Space Agency told Universe Today. “These craters have steep slopes making it difficult and risky for a large rover. Therefore, sending a micro-rover tethered to its mother one gives us the ability to explore the bottom of these craters with a minimum risk. Sending only a micro-rover could be an option. However, they are very slow so it is more efficient to have them on a larger rover to cover long distance and deploy them when needed.”

The micro-rovers can also be used to work alongside astronauts, to gain access to small spaces like caves.

The rovers should be mission-ready by about 2020, and NASA is already interested. Most missions to Mars and the Moon involve geology, and sometime in the future, mining. For instance, NASA has an experiment under consideration that entails digging up soil on the Moon and making hydrogen and oxygen out of it. These designs are intended to fit in with those types of activities.

Space robotics technology has long been a point of pride for Canadians, Canadarm was a fixture on the Space Shuttles and made it possible to do things like deploying satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope and was instrumental in building the International Space Station. CSA also built the huge Canadarm 2 and Dextre, the highly dexterous dual-armed robot, both of which reside on the International Space Station. More recently, CSA contributed a robotic arm and other equipment to Curiosity, the newest NASA rover to land on Mars.

Artemis is a light-weight terrestrial prototype that can either be operated by a human nearby or at a remote location, or use its onboard sensors to scan its environment and navigate without the need for a human operator. Credit: CSA

The new rover designs will add to the fine lineage of Canadian space robotics. Once they are deployed on missions to the Moon or Mars, they may end up elbowing the Canadarm and Dextre out of the spotlight. If they do take centre stage, no feelings will be hurt. Many of the same people who worked on the Canadarms and Dextre are involved in the development of the rovers.

“MDA (MacDonald, Detwiler and Associates) was the prime contractor for Canadarm and Dextre and is prime on three rover prototypes,” said Piedboeuf.

With these rover prototypes, CSA has avoided the one size fits all approach to rover design.

“The fleet developed by the Canadian industry for the CSA covers the range of applications we envisage and that will be welcomed by our international partners,” said Piedboeuf.

Though the CSA doesn’t anticipate any other rover designs, these 5 prototypes could be focused “on more specific applications such as in-situ resource utilization or science,” explained Piedboeuf.

If you find the unveiling of 5 new rover prototypes exciting, you’re in good company.

“People in industry, academia and within the CSA were excited to develop these rovers that could be one day on the Moon or Mars,” said Piedboeuf. “The opportunity of working on prototypes of space rovers with challenging requirements and advanced autonomy was a great motivation.”

See more images and information on the fleet of rovers at CSA’s website.