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Alexander Gerst practising intubation
Alexander Gerst practising intubation

Space doctors

25 July 2013
During an amateur radio call between the International Space Station and children of the Bambino Gesu’ Hospital in Rome, a boy asked ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano an important question: What did astronauts do if they hurt themselves or felt ill?

In fact, no ambulance can reach the International Space Station. That’s why it’s important that astronauts be taught basic medical skills before heading to the ISS.

Astronauts spend up to six months on the Station working on scientific experiments and maintaining the Station’s position. They need to be able to handle any emergency. After all, hundreds of kilometres separate them from the nearest hospital on Earth!

At least two Crew Medical Officers are assigned to each ISS mission. These astronauts are taught basic medical procedures, from stitching wounds… to filling teeth!

Alexander practising on a mannequin
Alexander practising on a mannequin
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will fly to the Station in 2014, and has already trained to be a Crew Medical Officer. As part of his training, he was just sent to a hospital to observe real-life medical cases.

He practised using a mannequin that is used to train hospital anaesthetists. It is so lifeflike that it blinks, breathes, and responds to injections!

After the classroom training, Alexander spent three days at the hospital. He was shown a wide range of important clinical procedures, like monitoring a patient’s vital signs.

Of course, medical procedures are different in space. Floating needles, for example, are a serious hazard! Preparation is extremely important, and ESA is making sure Alexander is as well prepared as possible.

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