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UofA, Banner & SpaceX team up for first-ever space surgery training program

Posted at 5:46 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 09:47:52-04

PHOENIX — Arizona will host the first-ever space surgery fellowship thanks to a partnership between Banner Health, the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, and SpaceX.

Traditionally, aerospace medicine has been preventative medicine, taking care of healthy astronauts and aviators before their missions. Currently, if there's an emergency in space, astronauts get brought back to Earth to be treated.

Dr. Eric Petersen, chief resident of the surgery program at the UArizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, said that's worked for lower orbit operations, but that option won't work in deep space.

"That changes a lot if you're trying to get back to the moon, that's a three-day turnaround time. Or with commercial providers like SpaceX to Mars, it could be 6-8 months travel time," he said.

Petersen is the founding director of the Arizona Program for Exploration Medicine and Surgery, or APEX. The fellowship program would tackle questions about how to provide care and surgery in space.

"Those different areas where you can do procedures change the tools and techniques that you'll probably implement. There's so much that we have to answer to be able to even do surgery on the surface of Mars. It's even much more complicated to do in space flight," he said.

The fellow will be trained in a variety of operations. And while they wouldn't be associated with the NASA astronaut program, Dr. Petersen said there could be opportunities with commercial space providers as they take more civilians up in space.

"So you're going to have taking care of more private people, not just the astronauts. So there's a potential, where down the road, our fellows could be with their skill set, able to offer their abilities to say 'hey can I come on these missions and take care of these people?'" said Petersen.

APEX will start as a one-year fellowship in the summer of 2023.

Learn more about APEX and the application requirements here.