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Astro-doc Thirsk keeps busy in space

Canadian physician Robert Thirsk has been keeping busy during his ongoing stay on the International Space Station.

Not only has he been providing medical care for his fellow astronauts and operating the Canadarm2 during his extraterrestrial trip, he's also received an honourary doctorate from the University of Calgary and published several academic papers in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. (And, presumably, the rest of his time has been taken up drinking tang, eating dehydrated food, making 2001: A Space Odyssey jokes, and whatever else it is astronauts do on the space station.)

In the CMAJ, he's written about the living conditions in space:

"In a weightless environment where everything "floats," more attention must be paid to proper body position and physical restraint when attending to bodily functions. A spacecraft is no place for anyone whose vacation experiences are limited to 5-star hotels."
Along with former Canadian astronaut Dr David Williams and several other co-authors, he also published a really interesting and comprehensive review of the medical literature on the acclimatization (which they call "acclimation") of the human body to conditions in orbit:
"The facial fullness and unique puffy appearance of the head coupled with reduced volume in the lower limbs associated with this fluid redistribution is referred to anecdotally as the "puffy face–bird leg" syndrome."
Another review examined the many ways one can be killed, injured or otherwise harmed while in space (PDF), including "high vacuum, microgravity, extremes of temperature, meteoroids, space debris, ionospheric plasma, and ultraviolet and ionizing radiation."

Dr Thirsk and the same group of co-authors also put out a paper on the medical innovations from space that have informed the practice of medicine on earth, in which they correct the common misperception that Teflon, Tang and Velcro were all invented by the American space program, and describe the benefits that space inventions have provided to a number of earthly endeavours, from surgery to firefighting to disease tracking to sports medicine to surgery.

Granted, Dr Thirsk surely did the research and writing for these articles before his rocket launched for the ISS, but still: it's pretty cool to be publishing articles from space.

FURTHER READING
To read a Q&A I conducted with Dr Thirsk before he lifted off, read my article from the May issue of Parkhurst Exchange.

For weekly updates about Dr Thirsk's mission on the ISS, you can consult the Canadian Space Agency's Expedition 20/21 website.

Also of interest is an eloquent, short piece by Dr David Williams about a spacewalk he conducted.

Photo: Canadian Space Agency

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1 comments:

  1. sharon12 July, 2009 9:21 AM

    Hmmmmmm.........maybe the skills of the associated authors in these papers will result in a........ Galactic medicine research team outlining the specific medical treatments appropriate for space travellers.....

    (i.e. Doctors without Planets)

    Heck... it isn't only the Ewoks that need a doctor out there ;)

    i.e. if his wife agrees :)

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