SpaceX is hosting a new fellowship on space-based surgery. It could save lives

Alongside its partners, it will go "where no one has gone before".
Chris Young
View from the ISSNASA

Basic tasks such as drinking water can be a challenge in space, due to the effects of microgravity. So imagine what it would be like performing surgery.

In a bid to start tackling that issue head on, SpaceX has partnered with the University of Arizona and Banner Health to host the first-ever Aerospace Surgery Fellowship starting this July, a press statement reveals.

It will be the first-ever fellowship training program in the U.S. to go beyond medical oversight for astronauts, delving into the field of aerospace surgery. Essentially, it aims to train future astronaut surgeons, who will travel to space with the express goal of keeping their fellow space explorers alive.

The APEX Aerospace Surgery Fellowship will bring expert surgeons and physicians together in the U.S., helping them prepare to work in the commercial aerospace medical field. The first-of-its-kind training fellowship will "prepare physicians to work in the commercial aerospace medical field and provide surgical and critical care support in extreme environments," the statement, from the University of Arizona's Health Sciences department, reads. They will form a part of the medical teams serving upcoming missions launched by SpaceX, NASA, and other space programs.

What's more, "graduates will be eligible for board certification in aerospace medicine with the designation as a flight surgeon." Together, the statement explains, the three partners collaborating on the fellowship will soon go "where no one has gone before."

Working towards "the first surgery in space" 

Starting in July, the APEX fellowship will last for a year and it will offer focus on several different topics, including the delivery of medical care in "extreme and resource-constrained environments." 

"Individuals who train in this program will not only be qualified to support the space program personally," said Nathanial Soper, executive director for general surgery at Banner, "they will also be on the leading edge of developing the necessary tools and procedures to facilitate this exciting next phase in space exploration. I am truly excited and enthusiastic about our institution being involved in this novel undertaking."

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Fellows will also have the opportunity to spend six months conducting research with SpaceX, the world's leading launch provider. They will be able to train at one or more of three SpaceX locations: its headquarters near Los Angeles, the Starship construction and launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, and Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

The fellowship is "groundbreaking," says Anil Menon, MD, a former SpaceX medical director who is now a NASA astronaut. "In the next 10 years, I suspect one of these fellows will be doing the first surgery in space, and hopefully, on Mars." With the backing of SpaceX, which aims to reach the red planet in the 2030s, we may soon breach a new frontier with the world's first space surgery.

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