Crew Health - Medical Systems and Operations

Interplanetary spaceflight, such as NASA’s proposed three-year mission to Mars, provides unique and novel challenges when compared with human spaceflight to date. Extended distance and multi-year missions introduce new elements of operational complexity and additional risk. These elements include:

  • Inability to resupply medications and consumables
  • Inability to evacuate injured or ill crew
  • Uncharted psychosocial conditions
  • Communication delays that create a requirement for some level of autonomous medical capability.

On a Mars mission, resource limitations will also significantly constrain available medical capabilities, and require a paradigm shift in the approach to medical system design and risk mitigation for crew health. To respond to this need for a new paradigm, NASA is assessing each Mars mission phase—transit, surface stay, rendezvous, extravehicular activity, and return—to identify and prioritize medical needs for the journey beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). We are addressing both planned medical operations and unplanned contingency medical operations that meld clinical needs and research needs into a single system. This assessment is being used to derive a gap analysis and studies to support meaningful medical capabilities trades. These trades, in turn, allow the exploration medical system design to proceed from both a mission centric and ethics-based approach to manage the risks associated with the medical limitations inherent in an exploration class mission.

While we continue to develop the conceptual drivers used to derive medical system and vehicle needs from an integrated vision of how medical care will be provided within this paradigm, we are already envisioning some of the key technologies that will be employed.

This innovation challenge seeks to complement or jump-start NASA’s current or planned investments in:

  • Exploration Lab Analyses Technologies (compact, low power, analytic devices to support healthcare in the field)
  • Flexible Ultrasound Technologies/Modalities (non-traditional uses of ultrasound in medical imaging and treatment)
  • Food and Pharmaceutical Technologies (extended life formulations or packaging; in situ production)
  • Assisted Medical Decision Support (compact exercise devices and/or wearable technologies with autonomous physiological and/or behavioral monitoring, advising, and motivating tools)
  • Augmented Reality Platforms (to virtual worlds for medical, physiological, and/or physical training).

Many of these technologies would have terrestrial spin-offs to health care delivery in remote/isolated locations, including those suddenly cut-off by natural or human-caused disasters. Others could be used to support autonomous independent living by at-risk populations.