NASA is developing a system to train astronauts to do surgical operations on each other. On long space missions, astronauts could be many months away from the nearest surgeon. They are especially concerned about bone fractures, and on a manned Mars mission, the gravity of the planet would make them more likely to occur.

At a scientific meeting in Davos, Switzerland, researchers revealed details of a joint project to help NASA crews perform bone realignment, and other techniques which remove the need to put an injured limb in plaster. A virtual reality simulator will teach the astronauts how to do it, and they already train on simulators for other tasks. The technique being taught involves clamping the broken bone in the right position so that weight can be put on an affected leg far sooner than if it?s set in plaster.

AO, an international organization of orthopedic surgeons, is working with NASA, and the research will be carried out at a university in Zurich. Dr. Andy Weymann, chief information officer at AO, says, ?Simulation is expected to play an important role in the planned Mars mission, which is now becoming increasingly realistic. The aim of this cooperation is to develop a simulator on which astronauts can learn to perform operations on one another in case one of them is injured in space. An injured astronaut cannot return to Earth within a sensible time scale, since the journey takes several months. The crew must therefore be in a position to treat themselves on the spot and in the spaceship.?

Weymann doesn?t think it will be possible to teach astronauts to do more complex surgical procedures, so it doesn?t look like they will be removing each other?s appendixes anytime soon. He does hope the simulator will also be used to help surgeons improve their technique inside the operating room.

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