Remote surgical robot could join astronauts on future Mars missions

No matter how mentally and physically prepared they are, future astronauts bound for deep space cannot escape their deadly restrictions. At some point during their long, isolated journeys, these pioneers might need medical attention. But it’s hard. In space, there are no hospitals.

Enter Mira.

On Tuesday, scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said their invention of a tiny surgical robot — called a miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant, or MIRA — will board the International Space Station for weightless testing in 2024. Ultimately, the team’s hope is that MIRA will accompany astronauts as they fly to Mars and zoom through the untouched reaches of space.

“As people go further and further into space, they may one day need to undergo surgery. We are working towards that,” said Shane Farritor. said in a press release. Farritor is a professor of engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-founder of Virtual Incision, the company behind MIRA.

The 2 pound bot basically looks like like a white rod with a duo of small arm-like attachments at one end. These fasteners are each adorned with two metal instruments. It’s the product of nearly 20 years of development – Virtual Incision has reached over $100 million in venture capital investment since its genesis in 2006. To add to that, NASA recently awarded the University of Nebraska-Lincoln $100,000 to prepare the aircraft for the 2024 trip.

international space station

A view of the International Space Station, where MIRA will hopefully live in a few years.


Already, according to a press release about the robotic surgeon, MIRA has helped with important procedures. Doctors have successfully used the instrument to perform minimally invasive colon resections, for example, which involve the removal of part or all of a patient’s colon.

If MIRA works well in space, a surgeon aboard the ISS could take advantage of the technology to help astronauts in need of medical assistance, without posing major risks to their bodies. MIRA could be particularly important given the lack of personnel, time and tools on spacecraft.

Beyond that, the team says its technology could also allow surgeons on the ground to work remotely on a space astronaut patient.. AAs a proof of principle, NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson took control of the robot while at Johnson Space Center in Houston and guided MIRA to perform surgical tasks in an operating room 900 miles away. there, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It worked.

This remote control aspect of MIRA can also facilitate surgeries closer to home one day – one example given by the team is injured soldiers in the field who need advanced procedures calling in specialists stationed elsewhere. . In fact, with this in mind, the US military also provided funding for the MIRA project.

A black patient bed to which MIRA is attached and hovering above.  Above MIRA there are two surgical round luminaires.

This is what MIRA could look like attached to a patient bed.

Virtual incision

In 2024, we will have a better idea of ​​how MIRA behaves in intense situations.

If MIRA can survive the aggressive jostling that accompanies rocket launches, it will reach the ISS and be quickly placed in a space station experiment locker. According to the team, it will likely take a year before astronauts conducting science experiments can put it into action. Then, once turned on, the robotic contraption will operate pretty much autonomously, Farritor said.

“The astronaut flips a switch, the process starts, and the robot does its job on its own,” he said. “Two hours later, the astronaut turns it off and it’s done.”

Recently, extraterrestrial surgery has become more discussed, given the goal of space agencies to send humans to other planets and to provide new forms of transportation to access deep space. In April, NASA even “holoborne” flight surgeon Dr Josef Schmid on the ISS as part of its efforts to advance cosmic medicine remotely. Combined with MIRA, this mechanism suggests that one day life could truly emulate Star Trek in health care.

Christine E. Phillips