U. of Cincinnati surgeon to join underwater mission

The technique could let a doctor on Earth treat an astronaut in space.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- A University of Cincinnati surgeon will explore the possibility that doctors on Earth could use robots to remotely perform surgery on astronauts in outer space as part of an underwater NASA mission.
Dr. Timothy Broderick, director of the university's Center for Surgical Innovation, has worked with NASA and the military on past robotic surgery projects. This time, he will head undersea with three astronauts as part of NASA's ninth, and longest, Extreme Environment Mission Operations -- nicknamed NEEMO -- at the National Undersea Research Center in Key Largo, Fla.
The 18-day mission, beginning April 3, involves research and training into the use of a robot that allows surgeons to perform operations from more than a thousand miles away.
The underwater team will be linked to researcher Mehran Anvari, who directs the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery in Hamilton, Ontario.
Anvari, while in Canada, will remotely control a surgical robot to operate on a simulated patient.
Known as telemedicine, the technique could someday allow a physician on Earth treat an astronaut on Mars, Broderick said.
What's also planned
Among other research, NEEMO-9 members plan to work with smaller robots that might be used for various space mission tasks, such as finding or retrieving medical supplies, said Kelly Humphries, a NASA spokesman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The crew also will research other technologies that could be used during lengthy space missions, Broderick said.
"One of the unique facets of the NEEMO project is the idea that you are isolated from the rest of the world, like you would be on a space station or in the space shuttle," Humphries said.
The NEEMO-9 crew will monitor the physical and social responses to living in a small area. The group will be 65 feet under aboard the 13-by-46-foot Aquarius laboratory.
Broderick describes it as "about the size of a Winnebago."
"Living in something that's a little bigger than my office ... will be fun, but there will be some challenges," he said.
The crew also will try out umbilical dive suits similar to spacesuits. They hope to find ways to distribute the weight of such suits more evenly to make walking in space easier.
Broderick said space suits used during the Apollo era caused problems because they were top heavy, causing astronauts to topple during spacewalks.

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