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First Zero-Gravity Surgery a Success 85

MattSparkes writes "Slashdot reported earlier this week that the first ever zero gravity surgery was to take place. Today the team of doctors successfully carried out the operation, removing a benign tumour from the forearm of a 46-year-old volunteer. "Now we know that a human being can be operated on in space without too many difficulties," team leader Dominique Martin said after the flight. The studies show that minor surgery is possible even during long-term inhabitation of space."
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First Zero-Gravity Surgery a Success

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  • Lucky guy (Score:3, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @11:58AM (#16215527) Homepage Journal
    The guy was crossing his fingers whilst the surgery was taking place.
    Mind you, having his hand in a bucket of ice for the flight back would make them quite immobile.

    Luckily surgeons here on Earth managed to reattach them.
  • I couldn't imagine the mess they must've made
  • by Bamafan77 ( 565893 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @11:59AM (#16215549)
    And if so, where do I sign up?
    • by Moby Cock ( 771358 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:02PM (#16215585) Homepage
      I have a long standing bet with a friend of mine that this has been tried already on a shuttle mission, but kept quiet. We agree that there is not evidence for or against it at present. ((I bet that it has happned, he bets it hasn't))
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If not, then right now would be a good time to try it given that there's a tourist babe on board.
      • by jonnythan ( 79727 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:16PM (#16215769)
        I would bet it hasn't. Shagging a member of a small, close-knit team that's focused on a very dangerous, mentally and physically demanding mission is a huge no-no.

        Astronauts are going to be very highly trained and motivated. No woman who has gotten herself that far would bang someone on a mission, and no guy that intelligent and ambitious would risk his entire life and career on a stupid stunt like that.

        My opinion of course :)
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Jett ( 135113 )
          I recall there was (is?) a married couple who are both astronauts. No idea if they have ever served on the same mission, but assuming they have I would expect NASA wouldn't object to allowing them to "conduct some research"...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Volante3192 ( 953645 )
          But what if a pair of crew members are married, like Mark C. Lee and Jan Davis of STS-47? []

          However, while the media jumped on it, I'm pretty sure it was a non issue. They've got tight enough schedules as it is on those missions without dealing with one extra biological experiment.
        • by WillyPete ( 940630 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:44PM (#16216203)
          By the same logic, if NASA ordered them to do it, they would do so without hesitation. They may not be a military outfit, but they are dominated by military men, and perform military operations.

          I did hear that they supposedly shot a porn in a flight just like the surgeons. Never saw it, and wouldn't want to. They call those things "Vomit Comets" for a reason. I half expected to hear the doctors puked on their patient. They must have trained in Zero-G ahead of time.

          There's also a document floating around that discusses an alleged series of experiments in the cargo bay of the shuttle. Sex in Zero-G sounds awesome, but the lack gravity would make it tricky to get any leverage. The doc claims they tried several things, including ropes and a tube large enough to hold both "subjects." The document's probably a fake, but it does raise enough salient points to be an interesting read. Happy hunting.
          • by Tackhead ( 54550 )
            > Sex in Zero-G sounds awesome, but the lack gravity would make it tricky to get any leverage. The doc claims they tried several things, including ropes and a tube large enough to hold both "subjects".

            Now that I've fixed your misplaced bold tags, what's the downside? (Giggity giggity goo!)

          • []

            All you wanted to know and more...
      • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:19PM (#16215801) Journal
        I'm sure some of the mice experiments involved reproductive testing.

        As to which astronaut actually had to copulate with the mice, I don't know.
      • by NMerriam ( 15122 )
        I know NASA has flown at least one married couple, as well as other couples who wound up marrying later. The Soviets also flew couples who married. I can think of a half-dozen Astronaut couples who are married, and I spoke to one of the female astronauts from a married couple on my last experiment (In the KC-135 "Vomit Comet", to keep on-topic), and she confirmed that at least one couple has had sex on the shuttle, though she wouldn't say who (not that I blame her!). It's pretty much the worst-kept "secret"
      • I remember reading something about sex on a russian space mission but it probably was a hoax (couldn't google anything to support it)

        But i found something else: []
    • sign up at nasa headquarters and meet Olga, 5'3", 230lbs, your new russian mate!

      the 1st 10% of a project takes 90% of the time. the last 90% of the project take up the other 90% of the time...
    • by Ruvim ( 889012 )
      I think it will happen soon as a married couple is launched. Another possiblity: Russians launching 2 space tourists at the same time, with one of them being a female.
    • or something...every action having an equal and opposite reaction and all that...

  • Long term? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:03PM (#16215591) Homepage Journal
    The studies show that minor surgery is possible even during long-term inhabitation of space.

    They were at zero-g for 20 seconds at a time. How does that prove the same techniques will work after the body has been in zero-g for long periods of time? TFA makes no mention of this.
    • by eln ( 21727 ) *
      This is a proof of concept. Now that they know it is technically feasible in a zero-g environment at all, they can spend the millions of dollars required to get these people into orbit to try it there.
      • Agreed. I was mostly pointing out that the last sentence of the summary is overzealous. Which of course never happens on slashdot...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      How does that prove the same techniques will work after the body has been in zero-g for long periods of time?

      The issue is one of surgical techinique, that is to say whether or not the surgeons can manipulate the tools and patient in a manner to do the procedure.

      But yes, the whole thing is really a bit silly, the statements made rather sillier and they could have gotten largely the same "results" by sending up a manicurist.

    • Re:Long term? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by brother bloat ( 888898 ) <> on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:14PM (#16215745) Homepage
      I agree that this system may not scale so simply. In addition to the issue of time scale, the doctors mentioned that they, in at least some cases, will be using robots operated remotely rather than the actual surgeons being present on board. One could argue that the success of this experimental surgery suggests that other zero gravity surgeries aren't out of the question. However, it's extremely difficult to predict how subtle differences involved in going from parabolic flight to space flight will affect such a complicated thing as surgery.
      • I can just imagine getting lag when operating in space with a robot. What is the normal reaction to lag? Try the same motion again. Now couple that with a knife and someone skin. That should be interesting.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radtea ( 464814 )
        From the summary: The studies show that minor surgery is possible even during long-term inhabitation of space."

        I love this kind of marketing-speak. People are told, "X is possible" and they assume it means "X is routine." What it actually means is, "Under the most carefully controlled conditions we tried X and didn't fail completely."

        Just think of all the times marketing has pushed for early release of an insufficiently tested app and you'll get the picture.

        This is an interesting and important step forwa
        • The logic is totally messed up here. Just becuase you do something once proves little. Imagine if the sugery had been a failure, that wouldnt nesicarilly prove that the concept is a failure.
          • by miyako ( 632510 )
            no number of failures proves something is impossible, but it only takes a single success to prove that it is possible.
            If the surgery had failed, it wouldn't have proven that it couldn't be done, but since the surgery worked, it proved that in at least some circumstances, it can be done (it can be done because it HAS been done).
  • In other news... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:04PM (#16215607) Homepage Journal
    The first 2G surgery was ALSO a success.
    • by Kyont ( 145761 )
      Agreed... also the second, third, ... , up through thirty-second instances of both zero-G and two-G surgeries were successful! Tumor was removed, despite continual barfing from patient.
  • Lots of blood (Score:4, Insightful)

    by varmittang ( 849469 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:04PM (#16215613)
    Minor operations might be fine, but when you need to work on something that can spill lots of blood, like a wound or heart surgery, that might be a little more difficult to control were blood shoots off too.
    • Re:Lots of blood (Score:5, Informative)

      by Moby Cock ( 771358 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:08PM (#16215661) Homepage
      The presence of lots of blood is already a problem. It tends to pool, obstucting the surgeons view. That's why they have suction mechanisms. Suction is still valid in micro-gravity.

      I don't expect space operating theatres to look anything like Star Trek VI, with blood drops drifting about aimlessly.
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by truthsearch ( 249536 )
        Can we look forward to a mind-meld with Kim Cattrall? Please?
      • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
        The presence of lots of blood is already a problem. It tends to pool, obstucting the surgeons view. That's why they have suction mechanisms. Suction is still valid in micro-gravity.

        At least, thanks to gravity, the blood pools and make it possible to just put a suction tube in the pool. In zero G, the problem is different, therefore, tools will probably differ too. Blood won't pool, but will probably "bubble". It could be an advantage if you need to work deeper in the wound where the blood would usually g
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      When performing bypass surgery the heart is usually stopped, or at least the part of the heart that is being operated on [], so that you don't have a lot of spillage of blood anyway.
  • Liposuction at 5000 fathoms in the Marianas Trench.
  • Mars, here we come (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sephiroth9611 ( 854458 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:16PM (#16215765) Journal
    There aren't too many ways to hurt yourself in a small capsule. Of course, if there is anything serious, odds are you're already dead from vacuum or cold. This is a milestone towards proving that a trip to Mars can be feasible and that things that crop up along the way that are not serious in and of themselves can be dealt with on the voyage by a flight surgeon or a medic.
    • Thank you for being the first serious comment on the article yet. Interesting.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 )
        How do you want to comment it seriously?

        What did it prove? That it is possible to cut human tissue during weightlessness, that it is possible to suck away blood without gravity, that it is possible to sew it back together while there is no weight attached. Personally, I did not doubt that this would be possible, but then, IANAM.

        What it didn't prove is whether there are any effects on the healing process, which would be, at least in my opinion, at the very least as, if not more, interesting. How does the hum
        • I agree, that is definitely an issue. The ISS needs to be completed and some actual scientists sent up to study this very issue. The sooner the shuttle program gets on with the construction, the sooner we'll have actual data on such things.

          Of course, it remains to be seen if NASA or any of the other space agencies will want to pay for serious medical research in LEO.
        • The mechanisms of wound healing aren't too far off from embryonic development. (In fact, many people study angiogenesis by observing embryos.) IIRC, there have been studies on the effects of weightlessness on developing mouse embryos, as gestation time is so short. So, you might look in that direction for your answers. You definitely asked an interesting question!! -- Paul
          • Well, wound healing has already been shown to work in space - even in vaccuum!

            On one of the missions, a small defect in an astronaut's glove eventually chaffed a hole in his skin and in the glove - his blood was leaking out into space. It was a minor injury, and the gloves are so uncomfortable anyway, so the astronaut didn't even notice until he came back inside. It turns out that the blood boils when it leaves the skin, but the platelet action is not effected so a clot forms anyway. Good thing too, sinc
          • Unfortunately mice don't fill out questionnaires. They can't tell you whether the limb grew together ok or whether they have strange pains that should not be there, whether it is fully useable or if unwanted and unexpected side effects occur.

            In short, we won't know 'til we actually have someone operated in space and his recovery monitored there, too. The big question is just, who's gonna be the poor guinea pig? Having an OP is usually something you want to be done in the most favorable conditions. After all
    • FWIW, space, while cold, is a horrid conductor of heat. One of the bigger problems in space (at least in earth orbit) is how to get rid of the waste heat. I therefore doubt you will be dead of cold, vacuum, possibly (you've got a few minutes there IIRC) cold? not likely.
  • I dont get it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrTester ( 860336 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @12:22PM (#16215841)
    What does this really prove?
    If there are complications its as likely that they are from the gravity fluctuations as from the near-zero gravity. There could still be complications with near zero g surgery, but they were mitigated by only being in zero g for 30 second intervals.
    If they are looking at the procedures of surgery in near zero gravity, what have they learned? According to the original article this is preparation for tele-robotic surgery, not preperation for surgeons in space. So what lessons from this would apply to a robot?

    I understand baby steps into these things, but this just does not seem all that useful.
    Wouldnt it be more useful to send a rat up to the space station and walk astronauts through a procedure? Sure it would be a more expensive (the fuel to get a 1 pound rat into space vs the jet fuel and crew for 6 hours) but I would think the results would be much more telling.

    At least thats my professional non-astronaut non-surgeon non-scientist non-accountant opinion.
    • Whatever the stated point is, it still forms yet another data set that NASA or whomever will look at with interest.

      At this point, it's not like the ISS is equipped to deal with science. As everyone who watches the program knows, the crew up there is there to babysit and look good for the manned spaceflight program.

      Be on the lookout for more like this.
  • after RTFA, i noticed that they talked about havingt he next attempt at zero gravity surgery be robot controlled. maybe i'm misinterpretting but shouldn't they first develop robots that can perform surgey here?

    the only thing i can think of that they meant otherwise was that the "zero gravity" twenty second portion would be robot controlled. can anyone clear this up for me?
  • by thorkyl ( 739500 )
    "The next phase of the program is to carry out a remote-controlled operation using a robot whose commands are sent from the ground via satellite"

    -- Just f****** great, now they are going to outsource surgeons jobs to non English speaking countries.

    -- Please hold while i look up you appendix.
  • The next logical step is not an operation on a human in space, but on a small animal (such as a mouse or rat), since it would be disposable if there were complications.

    However, the graphicness of animal testing is usually swept under the carpet, and is not inherently compatible with the publicness of recent space missions. The anti-animal-testing lobby will have an easy time of fighting such a test, especially if the scientists want to keep the animal alive for inspection (which begs the question how do you
  • Just to keep things in perspective: the intervention they did is the removal of a "lipoma", which is like a dense hazelnut-sized ball of fatty tissue. It is barely more complicated that cutting out a tiny patch of skin to remove a mole.

    I know a surgeon who has a buch of lipomas (like moles, some people just tend to get those benign tumors), and who routinely removes them on himself (only needs assistance if the lipoma is on his arm and he needs a second hand).

    That is to say, I am not that impressed, this is
  • Anti-septic? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by misleb ( 129952 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @06:49PM (#16221935)
    I wonder if there is a significant increase in risk of infection. From waht I understand, zero gravity environments are notoriously dirty. Disgusting, even. You sneaze, for example, and the result just floats and sticks to the wall. Bits of food float around (harboring microbes, etc.) How does one create sterile environment in zero-G?

    • I don't see why it would be gross there - aren't they constantly cirulating and filtering the air, as in any closed environment?
      • by misleb ( 129952 )
        I don't see why it would be gross there - aren't they constantly cirulating and filtering the air, as in any closed environment?

        Just imagine every cough, sneeze, loose liquid, food, etc just floating around and sticking to things. Even if you filter the air, you've still got stuff stuck the the walls. Mold is a pretty big problem in space, from what I understand.

    • I am thinking that the best way to keep a sterile environment is to introduce it. Blow sterilized air actively over the operating field, just enough to provide a positive pressure compared to the room air. This has the added advantage of helping give a direction to any floating blood. You could even place several intakes near the field, with filtering to catch the blood and any other floating particles. Sterilize the air and feed it back to the output vent(s) and you have a closed loop that maintains st

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