How astronauts handle medical meltdowns in space


– We’re here in Boston at
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and we’re about to get a crash course in how to deal with a
medical emergency in space. I’m terrified! (techno music)
(coughing) (alarm blares) – The smoke seems to be going down so, (coughing)
and the alarm stopped so we should be– (background noise drowns out voices) NASA astronauts go into space when they’re at their
peak physical ability. But like the rest of us,
they can still get sick. And when that happens, it’s not as if they can just drive to the hospital. Astronauts in low Earth orbit like those on the International Space Station still have constant
contact with ground control if there’s a medical emergency. A flight surgeon can talk them through it and provide professional expertise. Astronauts flying to Mars
won’t have that luxury. They’ll need to solve
emergencies on their own without much help from Earth. And that’s why we’ve come
to the STRATUS Center. It specializes in medical simulations from doctoring robotic dummies to using virtual reality to
practice microscopic surgery. STRATUS received funding from NASA to build its own spacecraft sick bay, where they run medical
emergency simulations. While astronauts are currently trained in basic medical procedures,
this program is focused on how teams should behave
during a medical emergency on a deep space mission and what it will take to work autonomously without constant support
from ground control. So what I love about this center is that we’re in a regular
old hospital hallway and then we turn here and we’re in space. – Incredible, right? – I have to hand it to y’all, it looks like you ripped it straight
out of a sci-fi movie. – Thanks, well, we had a
lot of input from experts from NASA and it’s based
on the Destiny module so it’s the same kind of height and width so it feels compact. Just as in space. – Weight is such an issue for launching so how did you decide
what tools you would need, you know, what are some of the
basics that you have to have? – Heat load is a huge concern, and even things like fluids,
so we use a lot of IV fluid in the hospital and it’s
so heavy to take fluids, so you can’t really do that. And so we’ve got like a basic cardiac kit, a respiratory kit, like a first
aid kit that you would have with bandages and gauze and so on. It’s a low resource
healthcare environment. – [Loren Grush] So it’s
not a lot of equipment but it seems like you have
a lot of different things that could be used for different purposes. – This has all of the medicine you’d need, so this is like a medicine kit, it has some key drugs for
dealing with cardiac conditions such as epinephrine, it has
atropine, it has albuterol, other drugs and this is actually
what it really looks like. They’re in these little pouches so what would happen normally
is you’d open the door and things would start to
fly all over the place. – Right, gotta keep things down. – People come through
here and they expect us to have a switch so we can flick thew gravity
off and people will be floating so we don’t have that functionality. – [Loren Grush] So, I suit
up for the simulations. We’re gonna run through three of them. A common emergency, a
dire medical emergency, and a full out meltdown situation. The common medical situation we dealt with first, was cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat. – [Woman On Microphone]
How are her vital signs? – The pulse ox is 96 and
heart rate’s about 140. Blood pressure is 128/70.
– Okay, can you get an EKG? – So the stickers, it
tells you where to put ’em, so right, left, upper, and lower. – It’s nervous. – [Woman On Microphone]
I’m looking at the images from the monitor right now
and I think we’re gonna need to give her some medications. – It takes one, two, three, medicine’s in, so we got a pause on the monitor. And heart rate’s back, it’s
slower, I think we’re good, she’s looking much better. – Whoo, we did it, I think. (laughs) Next we faced a more
dire medical emergency. Ripley had a collapsed lung and I got to try out my shot-giving skills. – [Woman On Microphone]
You just go right in and you should hear a rush of air. – [Brett] Looks like the oxygen is maybe a little bit better. – You are really thinking
now of how does the crew deal with these events in a
semi-autonomous or autonomous way? If you have an acute
episode and it’s 20 minutes to wait for a response
from the flight surgeon on the ground, you don’t
have that functionality. – You need answers now.
– You got to do it. So the crew then has to work autonomously. – But we’re lucky in these simulations. We have communication with ground control to help us do these trainings. And good thing too, because our last test, we faced a critical emergency. Toxic exposure, plus a ship
malfunction on top of that. Hi, we have an alarm going off, it looks like we have a
leak, maybe an ammonia leak. An issue with the ship
causes a toxic ammonia leak. We need to put on our
personal protective equipment. – There’s no time. – We don’t have time for that. – [Woman On Microphone] Seems like your solar panels are overheating. – Oh crud, okay. On top of all this, one of our solar panels starts overheating, which we have to address for
the safety of the entire crew. – [Woman On Microphone]
Alright, we need to get that solar panel shut down
so it doesn’t overheat and cause more problems. – Okay. – Okay, I’m in the process
of getting that going. – [Female Crew Member] What
should we do about this? – Okay, hold on, can we put
the solar panel on pause? We need to talk about Ripley. – Wait, no, we can’t put that on pause. – Okay. What does Brett need to do to isolate the solar panel problem? – [Woman On Microphone] So he needs to go into Control Panel Three. – Okay, go to Control Panel Three. – [Woman On Microphone] Section J – Section J. Alright. (coughing) – Okay, that’s the sound that you’re over. (groaning) – We failed! These simulations help teams practice better communication and learn how to work together efficiently under stress. If you’re dealing with a new emergency, you don’t wanna be figuring out how to work together at the same time – In an extraterrestrial environment, simulating things before
they actually occur, figuring out the ergonomics of how do you take care of patients under very challenging circumstances
is a real opportunity to improve the care that we
provide potential patients in a space mission. – And you can’t really go to space all the time and practice. – Unfortunately, you can’t go to space all the time to practice, so doing this is at least the beginning of the work towards improving the quality of
care in space medicine. – No astronauts have gone
through these simulations yet, but STRATUS plans to do
more behavioral studies and improve their sick bay simulations and their methods could be incorporated into astronaut training someday. So, I think it’s clear that I have a lot more medical training I need to do before I’m equipped to deal with one of these emergencies in space. I think it’s clear that NASA does too. They’re gonna have to
do a lot of simulations like this one before they
send astronauts to Mars. NASA is still many years
away from sending crews into deep space, but when that time comes, simulations like these will be critical to training crews to work together so that they’ll be able to handle emergencies without much help from home. If you enjoyed this video
and want more space content with yours truly, you should
check out and subscribe to our new YouTube channel, Verge Science. Thanks for watching!

55 thoughts on “How astronauts handle medical meltdowns in space

  1. I wonder what the expiration date is on some of those medical products, especially the medications. It's not like you can just go pick something up from the medical supply store.

  2. i never thought of this kind of emergency. there’s more for us to think about. to go to Mars is indeed a BIG step

  3. Space Craft is my favourite series of the Verge and yet another season and another great episode. Great Job the Verge!

  4. The lighting in the test room was terrible and I think that equipping a spacecraft with „white” lights only is a better option than overwhelming the crew with flickering red and blue light.
    This may be part of the test or a recreation of how Hollywood likes to think space emergencies look like.

  5. We will NEVER put a colony on Mars! It ain't gonna happen! The first attempt will never make it. This will delay r&d, and cause refits of premanufactured space stuff. A second attempt might actually touch down on Mars, but again, unforseen problems will kill off the second crew. By the time a 3rd attempt makes the drawing board, if we haven't blown our selves up in a nuclear war, or a solar emp wiped us out, other earthly problems will influence the decision to shut down the enormously cost prohibitive Mars project, for good!

  6. This is fascinating. How do they deal with blood not pooling? They should bring a doctor with them on the trip. Being able to manufacture drugs is the next step as well as surgical bots. They need an EMH.

  7. "In an extraterrestrial environment, simulating things before they actually occur… is a real opportunity to improve the care we provide potential patients in a space mission."

    So that's why they have the medical emergency with an astronaut named Ripley… (3:57)

  8. How about if someone dies in ISS? The body is put in next returnflight to earth? Is dumped in space on trajectory to earth's atmosphere? Is placed in Proton to burn with other garbage?

  9. It takes a special kind of person to handle multiple crises at once. And to stay calm and lucid. Space travel will never be 'safe'. It won't be as safe as air travel, and even air travel has it's moments of crisis and calamity. Space even more so.

  10. I imagine NASA is already doing this, but it makes sense to train one or two physicians, plus a nurse perhaps, to join a deep space mission and deal with such medical emergencies.

  11. Need military based combat medical training, also WFR (Wilderness First Responder) course would help as well in order to train for "McGyvering" medical solutions.

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