Some examples of applications of spacetech in health are listed below. This gives us an idea of the potential to reuse and adaptations of technologies
Telemedicine has received a huge boom in recent times. People can now meet with doctors and discuss their symptoms online. This is particularly useful in rural regions where the people may not have access to doctors. Now with Covid-19 spreading, telemedicine has been thrust into the spotlight as a safe method for doctors to communicate with their patients.
Many countries are now investing in satellites to facilitate faster communication. SpaceX has already started building a network of over 150 satellites that will make telecommunication faster and more wide-spread. Startups like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are now following suit.
Robotics in Surgery.
The CanadArm2 on the ISS is a masterpiece of engineering. Many of the robotic arms used in factories and assembly plants are direct descendants of the CanadArm. Today, these arms are advanced enough that they are used in prosthetics and even for surgeries. These arms allow doctors to remotely perform surgeries from anywhere in the world. Research on ISS has allowed for innovations in surgical performance through the world’s first robotic technology capable of performing surgery inside MRI machines. This technology is making difficult brain tumor surgeries easier and impossible surgeries possible.
Breast Cancer Treatment.
Technology derived from the highly capable robots designed for the ISS may soon increase access to life-saving surgical techniques to fight breast cancer. Researchers created IGAR from a long line of Canadian heavy lifters and maintenance performers for the space shuttle and space station Canadarm, Canadarm2 and Dextre.
Medical technology stemming from space station robotics will enter clinical trials for use in the early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer by providing increased access, precision and dexterity resulting in highly accurate and minimally invasive procedures.
The astronauts breathe into a specially developed instrument that measures nitric oxide levels. The purpose of taking reduced measurements in an airlock––normally used to exit a spacecraft for spacewalks, and is set at a 30% reduced pressure–– is to simulate conditions in future habitats on Mars, and is equivalent to being at 3000 m (9843 ft) altitude on Earth. The device that measures the nitric oxide is lightweight, easy to use and accurate. The same instrument is currently used in clinics and hospitals, helping asthmatics and offering a quick and cheap way to diagnose lung problems.
Ultrasound imaging is among the fastest, safest and most universal diagnostic methods ever invented. It provides much of the information that can be obtained by expensive technologies, such as X-ray, computed tomography, or magnetic resonance imagery, and it is the only method to produce a real-time or live image that can be interpreted and/or transmitted at the same time. In the right hands, ultrasound instantly answers many clinical questions, shortening the assessment time and improving outcome. The key concept developed by the NASA team is the methodology for "Remote Expert Guidance" of ultrasound examinations, which links a remote expert with the on-site operator in a virtual common working environment. The ultrasound machine video output is transmitted to the remote expert via a satellite or Internet connection, and the operator is guided to obtain the ultrasound images via voice commands. This technique has dramatically reduced training requirements (often down to minutes) while preserving the quality of the ultrasound examinations. Such a device can be used in rural areas as it is portable. The images can be transmitted to the district or nodal health centers where doctors can analyze the readings.
A type of cold plasma could potentially be used for disinfecting wounds, helping them heal faster, and even to fight cancer. Complex plasma research has been taking place onboard the ISS since 2001. This research has improved our fundamental knowledge and provided tremendous insights in complex plasma research and how we can control complex plasmas (i.e., plasmas mixed with fine particles). The weightless environment is ideal for this area of research by allowing astronauts to produce macroscopic analogues of atomic structure in gases and liquids and observe phase transitions such as melting or freezing.Cold plasmas have the properties needed to safely and efficiently inactivate fungi, viruses, spores and odor molecules. In more than 3,500 examples in several clinical trials, physicians found plasmas can disinfect chronic wounds and help wounds heal faster.
The space environment has been shown to induce key changes in microbial cells that are directly relevant to infectious disease, including alterations of microbial growth rates, antibiotic resistance, microbial invasion of host tissue, organism virulence (the relative ability of a microbe to cause disease), and genetic changes within the microbe (Wilson et al., 2007, 2008). The targets identified from each of these microgravity-induced alterations represent an opportunity to develop new and improved therapeutics, including vaccines, as well as biological and pharmaceutical agents aimed specifically at eradicating the pathogen.
Disease tracking and tracing.
Geospatial data is becoming an important tool for infectious disease modeling. In the future, satellites could be used to predict where the COVID-19 virus is likely to emerge. Satellite data has previously been used to successfully predict outbreaks of cholera and a team of researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park are currently working on a predictive model for the virus that causes COVID-19. Satellites can also be used to measure the effects COVID-19 is having on different regions and to detect communities that could be vulnerable to infection in unmapped areas by automatically identifying buildings and roads. Earth observation data can give insights into the environmental changes currently taking place due to COVID-19. Social distancing has led to a huge decrease in road traffic and as a result there are lower levels of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide in the air. Satellites can also be a useful tool in measuring the economic impact that COVID-19 is having on a country. By tracking the movement of goods in ports, satellites can give an insight into the economic impact of COVID-19 as well as the pace of recovery.