Your friendly neighborhood space/rehab doctor! I love space and I love rehab. The two go hand in hand.
I aspire to rehabilitate astronauts, pilots, divers, and other brave souls living and working in extreme environments. I am a resident physician in Rehabilitation medicine at Washington University, St. Louis. From 2015-2016, I was the space doc for HI-SEAS IV, a one-year mission to simulated Mars. We went. We scienced. And we “returned to Earth.” I still work to promote space, science, and healthy life on Earth. The the tales from that journey can be found on my professional blog, livefrommars. This is my personal blog.
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Why Rehab is The Best
We live to function. That’s the meat of it. Though we excel at existing, we don’t live just to breath and metabolize. We live to walk. We live to talk and to communicate other members of our species. We want to dress ourselves and go out into the world. There, we want to be able to go to places, use transit, conduct our business, enjoy ourselves and move with ease and stability.
I want you all to have an excellent level of function. My patients want that level of function back. The reason they no longer have excellent function varies. It may be because they have lost muscle and bone mass; have had changes in their stability; have their senses out of alignment. Perhaps this is the case because they have been in space! Perhaps they’ve been laying in a hospital bed. Both result in loss of muscle and bone. Perhaps they’ve had a stroke or a traumatic brain injury (TBI) ! Perhaps the signals are no longer traveling from their legs to their brain because of a problem in the spinal cord.
I’m here to help: with pre-habilitation before flight or cancer treatment; with care during healing after amputation or while in prolonged microgravity; with getting back to life after TBI or deep space exposure. My valiant colleagues in surgery, emergency medicine, and critical care prevent death. They are remarkable at it. I preserve and improve function so that people can get back to their lives.
Why Did We Simulate Life on Mars for a Year?
It turns out that people – not plants, propulsion or planetary weather – are the big X factor in space travel. In our exploration of the known Universe, people are the most pressing unknown. A machine can only break in so many ways. Micrometeorites can be shielded from and solar flares forewarned. People are constantly inventing new ways to break themselves and each other. To make everyone’s life more comfortable and productive, space scientists (and scientists in general) would like to be able to predict when these breaks are going to happen. The hope is that if we understand how and why they happen, we can prevent them from happening as often. In space, the idea is to keep one step ahead of the circumstances that lead to a crew breaking down on the way to or back from a mission far, far away.
So, how do we keep humans on deep space missions healthy, productive? That’s what we went to find out!