French doctors perform operation in zero gravity

27th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

BORDEAUX, France, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - French doctors on Wednesday carried out the world's first ever operation on a human in zero gravity, using a specially adapted aircraft to simulate conditions in space.

BORDEAUX, France, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - French doctors on Wednesday carried out the world's first ever operation on a human in zero gravity, using a specially adapted aircraft to simulate conditions in space.

During a three-hour flight from Bordeaux in southwest France, the team of surgeons and anaesthetists successfully removed a benign tumour from the forearm of a 46-year-old volunteer.

The experiment was part of a programme backed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop techniques for performing robotic surgery aboard the International Space Station or at a future Moon base.

"We weren't trying to perform technical feats but to carry out a feasibility test... Now we know that a human being can be operated on in space without too many difficulties," team leader Dominique Martin told journalists after the flight.

The custom-designed Airbus 300 aircraft -- dubbed Zero-G -- performed a series of parabolic swoops, creating between 20 seconds of weightlessness at the top of each curve. The process was repeated 32 times.

Strapped inside a custom-made operating block, three surgeons and two anaesthetists worked during these brief bursts, with their instruments held in place with magnets around the patient's stretcher.

"If we had had two hours of zero gravity at a stretch, we could have removed an appendix," Martin said.

A similar experiment was carried out in October 2003 but the operation then was to mend a 0.5-millimetre-wide (.01-inch) artery in a rat's tail.

The next phase of the programme is to carry out a remote-controlled operation using a robot controlled from the ground by satellite. This experiment should take place within a year, Martin said.

Anaesthetist Laurent de Coninck said that zero-gravity surgery offered huge promise for space exploration, although it would at first be limited to treating simple injuries.

"Today more than 400 people have already travelled into space. The chances of injuries occurring during missions will become ever greater and to bring a wounded person back to Earth for treatment is both risky for them and expensive," he said.

World space agencies hope that by 2020 a permanently inhabited base can be established on the Moon, to conduct research, exploit lunar resources, learn to live off the lunar land and test technologies for voyages to Mars.

In the shorter term, pre-built robotic surgical blocks could also have valuable uses here on Earth, for instance inside caves or locations that are difficult to access, such as after an earthquake.

"Long-distance flights to Mars will not be happening in the immediate future," said Guy Laslandes, head of the Ariane V programme at France's National Centre for Space Studies (CNES).

"But the experiment will allow the development of working methods and miniaturised tools that can be used in extreme conditions on Earth, such as during missions to the North Pole."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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