Dr. Robert Satcher

NASA Astronaut, retired

6:30pm EST., Friday February 16th

Live at the Seidman "Forum," GVSU Seidman College of Business, Pew Campus

Human Factors in Space Flight

"Space medicine is as essential for accomplishing space exploration as building safe rockets," -- Robert Satcher, MD, PhD, as he described being in space during his address at Harvard Medical School.

Space medicine has advanced along with increasing the human presence in space. The international space station has been in orbit for over 25 years. It has been continuously occupied since the year 2000—a remarkable achievement. Once thought of as a niche subspecialty for astronauts, space medicine continues to evolve as an academic discipline, and its practice is expected to be central to successfully establishing human presence on the moon, Mars, and beyond.

NASA pioneered the use of telemedicine for the medical care of Astronauts. From the perspective of the only orthopaedic oncologist/Astronaut, the use of telemedicine techniques synergize with remote care modalities that are translatable for cancer patients, and for patients in remote locations. The data and experience from a major cancer institution are summarized as evidence of the success of this approach. Moreover, future directions of research and development are identified for use in future proposed deep space exploration missions to Mars and asteroids, as further demonstration of bidirectional synergy of the telemedicine/telesurgery applications for cancer care and space exploration.

Much remains to be further developed in caring for space flight participants and astronauts. Surgery has never been performed on humans in space. It is anticipated that a surgery will be necessary during a deep space flight mission, possibly as soon as the mission to Mars. The necessary technology for this is likely already in existence. As used for patients in remote locations, combining telemedicine with onsite ‘just in time’ capabilities will be essential. Robotics continue to advance, making it possible to accomplish these surgeries with similar precision as is done on Earth. The economic landscape also favors increased adoption, as the space economy, including space tourism, continues to grow. Overall, the future of space medicine is promising, as it is inextricably linked to ongoing technology innovation, and it is anticipated that there will be increasing need for medical and surgical care 'anywhere and anytime'.

Robert Lee Satcher, Jr., MD, PhD is recognized for his varied career interests and notable successes, from his training as a chemical engineer, to his practice as an orthopaedic surgeon in oncology, and service as a mission specialist astronaut for NASA. Dr. Satcher flew on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, STS-129, in November 2009, during which he performed two spacewalks totaling over 12 hours of extravehicular activity.


Dr. Robert Satcher

Page last modified January 26, 2024