Science News

Human Surgery in Zero Gravity

Sat, 30th Sep 2006

Part of the show Science Question and Answer - New Horizons Mission

Doctors lead by Frances Chief Surgeon Dominique Martin have become the first ever to perform surgery on a human in zero-g. The European Space Agency-backed experiment aimed to prove that zero-g surgery was possible in advance of preparing for long duration space missions. The operation took place on board a specially modified Airbus 300 plane that simulates weightlessness by rising and diving at just the right speeds so that the people onboard are actually in freefall within the plane. This is the same effect that causes your stomach to somersault when you go over a hump-back bridge and is the same technique used to film the Apollo 13 movie. The operation was to remove a benign tumour from a patient's arm and was a complete success. This surgery was chosen because it was relatively simple and would not involve too much bleeding. The operation was also easy to halt in case of problems. The next aim for the program is to test robotic 'surgeons' that would be remote controlled from the ground. If technology like this was fully developed it would allow a surgeon on Earth to perform emergency surgery on an astronaut on the space station or a future Moon base.

'FACE' ON MARS A FIGMENT OF IMAGINATION
Many of you out there will be familiar with the image taken by the Viking 1 spacecraft that appears to show a giant face sculpted into the Landscape of Mars, but new image by the European Space Agency orbiter, Mars Express, have shed new light on the area. All sorts of conspiracy theories have used the iconic image as evidence that there was once a civilisation on Mars that constructed the huge human looking image and the area has formed the setting of numerous science fiction stories. However the new photos show that the face is actually a fairly ordinary looking hill. The eye sockets and mouth are depressions separated by a raised mound that forms the nose. However the new detailed images do not look at all artificial and instead show the hill as a fairly plain natural occurrence. The face interpretation probably comes from a combination of effects. Firstly the contrast was significantly enhanced on the original Viking images to allow scientists to more clearly see faint surface features. Secondly humans are very good at recognising faces, an essential ability that allows us to tell each other apart. Unfortunately this can allow our brain to be fooled into thinking that unrelated patterns are actually faces, as has been the case here on Mars.

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