A tiny robot known as MIRA will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024 to perform simulated surgery in microgravity.
MIRA, or “Miniaturized in vivo Robotic Assistant,” will fly to the International Space Station with a $100,000 award to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln through the U.S. Department of Energy’s established program to boost competitive research (EPSCoR).
The technology involved could in the future provide a solution to medical emergencies requiring surgery when astronauts are away from home, such as on a mission to Mars.
But first, the 2024 test mission will see MIRA operating in a microwave-sized experimental locker aboard the ISS in low Earth orbit.
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The goal will be to fine-tune the robot’s operation in microgravity through autonomous tests including cutting stretched rubber bands and pushing metal rings along a wire, mimicking the movements used in surgery.
“NASA has long supported this research, and as a culmination of this effort, our robot will have a chance to fly on the International Space Station,” Shane Farritor, a professor of engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said. in a statement (opens in a new tab).
Over the next year, Farritor and his team will write custom software for MIRA, configure the robot to fit in a standardized space station experiment container, and perform tests to make sure MIRA will work. as expected in space and will be able to survive a launch.
In previous tests, surgeons have successfully used the device to perform colon resections. It has also been used remotely, with a former NASA astronaut using MIRA to perform surgical tasks 900 miles (1,448 kilometers) from the operating room.
MIRA was developed by Virtual Incision, a startup co-founded by Farritor that has attracted over $100 million in venture capital investment since its inception in 2006.