Your breath rasps as you carry out a strenuous EVA (extra-vehicular activity) rocket-payload retrieval to bring critical supplies to humanity’s first Martian colony. Suddenly, you lose your footing and feel a snap in your lower leg. Gut tells you: a break. Through the pain, you radio your team about the injury. What are you going to do when help is 250 million miles away?
At the remote Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah, where the landscape is bathed in reddish hues that mirror our solar system neighbor, a unique, collaborative and first-of-its-kind program to answer that question and tackle the practical needs of medicine beyond Earth is taking place.
For everything from muscle atrophy to cardiac arrest to broken bones, future Red Planet explorers will need the skills and adaptable technology to respond quickly to health issues in the most extreme and austere of environments. Fitting challenges for a planet named, and represented in several cultures, for war and destruction.
To address those life-and-death variables is where the combined knowledge of two powerhouse departments – CU Anschutz’s Emergency Medicine and CU Boulder’s Aerospace Engineering – comes together. “Medicine in Space and Surface Environments” is a Maymester course to train doctors and engineers to be the first first responders in space.
With the close proximity, partnership and the high level of expertise of both institutions, as well as several Colorado-based aerospace firms, it’s the perfect environment in which to hold the only class of its kind in the nation.
Take an inside look at the course and collaboration between the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and CU Boulder in the video here:
This innovative blending of disciplines is the brainchild of Ben Easter, MD, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine in the CU School of Medicine, and Allie Anderson, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at CU Boulder, in collaboration with other colleagues. One of the main goals of the course is connecting the disciplines of engineering and medicine to, as Easter puts it, “improve what we can accomplish in human space flight.” Easter and Anderson co-lead the class, which puts students through a variety of simulations to expose them to interconnected complexities of interplanetary travel. Simultaneously, the course offers an experience to take the synergy of medicine and engineering and apply it to extreme environments on Earth when help isn’t immediately around.
But travel to Mars, and the medical and technical challenges and solutions arising out of such an endeavor, is arguably a human impulse to see what’s over the horizon.
It calls to mind the message Carl Sagan recorded for future astronauts on Mars, which was embedded on a special silica glass DVD on the Phoenix lander; touching down on the Martian surface in May of 2008.
Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us from the evolutionary process. We come after all from hunter gatherers and for 99.9 percent of our tenure on earth, we’ve been wanderers and the next place to wander to is Mars.