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Remote Surgical Robot May Be Used On Future Mars Missions

By: April Carson

Future astronauts bound for deep space can't avoid the limitations of their physical and mental makeups. These pioneers might require medical assistance at some time during their lengthy and isolated travels. But that's difficult. There are no hospitals in space, so any future explorers who go there will have to rely on themselves for medical assistance until they return home.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced Tuesday that their invention of a tiny surgical robot - dubbed the miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant, or MIRA - will go to the International Space Station for zero-gravity testing in 2024. The team's objective is for MIRA to accompany astronauts as they fly to Mars and explore uncharted outer regions of space.

"We've already done MRIs," Farritor added, "and soon we'll be able to do fluorescence microscopy for even more parts of the body. We're working toward that goal." Virtual Incision, founded by Shane Farritor and a University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineering professor, is developing MIRA.

The 2-pound bot is essentially a white pole with two tiny armlike attachments on one end. Each of these attachments is capped with two metallic tools. It's the result of nearly 20 years of research, with Virtual Incision having raised more than $100 million in venture capital investment since its inception in 2006. To top it off, NASA recently gave the University of Nebraska Lincoln $100,000 to get the machine ready for the next journey in 2024.

A robotic surgical system created by the Japanese company MIRA has already aided with complex operations. Doctors have successfully employed the equipment to conduct minimally invasive colon resections, which entail removing a person's colon in part or totally.

Whether or not MIRA performs well in space, a surgeon aboard the ISS could take advantage of it to assist astronauts in need of medical help without posing significant threats to their health. Given the scarcity of personnel, time, and equipment on spacecraft, MIRA may be especially helpful.

The technology can be used for a variety of operations, including endoscopic surgery and neurosurgery. In addition, it may allow ground-based surgeons to operate on a space-borne astronaut patient remotely. NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson handled the robot's controls from Houston and directed MIRA to carry out surgical procedures in an operating room 900 miles away at the University of Nebraska Medical Center as proof of concept. It succeeded.

The fact that remote control is involved may make it possible to perform procedures in closer proximity one day, as the team points out, such as injured service personnel on the move who require sophisticated treatments requiring specialists stationed elsewhere. In fact, considering this, the US Army has committed some cash to MIRA.

In 2024, we'll have a better sense of how MIRA performs in high-stress circumstances.

MIRA will likely reach the ISS and be swiftly installed within a space station experiment locker after surviving the fierce melee that comes with rocket launches. According to the team, it'll take roughly a year for astronauts performing science research to utilize it. Then, once switched on, the robotic device will operate largely on its own, according to Farritor.

"The astronaut flips a switch, and the process begins. The robot does its job by itself after two hours," he added.

Given the goal of space agencies to send people to other planets and develop new methods of transportation to access deep space, extraterrestrial surgery has recently gained a lot more attention. NASA even "holoported" flight surgeon Dr. Josef Schmid to the ISS in April as part of its mission to push remote, cosmic medicine forward. When combined with MIRA, that mechanism suggests that one day health care may truly imitate Star Trek when it comes to medical technology.

But while the idea of beaming people up to the ISS or even to Mars may be gaining popularity in fiction, Farritor is quick to point out that there are still many challenges that need to be overcome before such a system could be used in reality.

"The big challenge with robotic surgery is going to be dealing with the unexpected," he said. "In an emergency situation, you don't have a lot of time to think through all the different permutations of what might happen. So, you have to have a pretty robust set of capabilities on board the robot, and the surgeon has to be able to trust that those capabilities are there."

One solution that has been proposed is to have a second surgeon on Earth who could provide guidance during an emergency, but that would require a significant amount of bandwidth and potentially delay critical care.

"I think the biggest challenges are going to be psychological," Farritor said. "Surgeons are very used to having their hands on the patient and being able to feel what they're doing. They're also used to being able to see the patient's reaction to what they're doing. With a robot, you don't have that."

The original study was published on



About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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