I would like to begin this post with some shameless self-promotion. In desperation to get as far out of the Earth’s atmosphere as possible, I have entered a contest for a WorldView flight.
If you’re a friend or have enjoyed reading my posts, please navigate to the following video and hit the hitchhiking button, also known by the youngers as the ‘like’ button.
If you’re a mortal enemy then go ahead and also hit the ‘like’ button. After all, commercial space is new and probably fairly dangerous, so you have a change of finally getting rid of the Joker to your Batman. It’s a win-win really.
Finally, if you’re indifferent -watch it anyway. You’ll get to see me clean my crew member’s poop within the first 30 seconds. Good stuff. Then hit ‘like’.
Basically, if I get selected for the flight I’ll be able to get some great footage for outreach videos, blog posts, and projects to help promote spaceflight. So, yeah – Thanks in advance.
Scroll down for the real blog post!
Health and Performance
During training week of the mission, we were called into a group area to receive our mission roles. We had discussed possibilities prior to the mission, but none of us, except for the commander (talk about an early abuse of power!) knew what our titles would be.
Roles included Commander, Chief Engineer, Mission Specialist Biology, Science Officer, IT and Outreach, and The Health and Safety/Health and Performance Officer.
As it turned out, I was selected as the Health and Performance Officer. I imagine this was probably due to my extensive experience in Electrical Engineering.
Actually, it was probably because of my experience in Biomedical Engineering, along with some basic operational emergency training. I was pleasantly surprised at how excited I became for this role in the next few days. In addition to basic medical training, I received a one-on-one training session for handling emergency situations where I was able to start thinking about group scenarios. It was exciting to look forward and consider problems that could occur out in the lava fields and to start preparing for potential events. Crew health would become a top priority of mine.
My regular responsibilities include managing our medical inventory and making sure we have enough regular-use medical equipment. In addition, I upkeep equipment we hope to never need such as our A.E.D. to make sure it’s operational just in case.
I also prepare outside medical kits for EVA’s – for whenever the crew leaves the habitat. With some essential supplies, we know that we’ll be able to treat basic injuries out in the field or be able to return the person to the habitat without breaking simulation.
One fun aspect of the position is creating emergency training drills for the crew. These include setting up scenarios such as someone having an unexpected leg injury in the field, or losing light and communication in a lava tube. Some of these caves are so dark that you can’t differentiate between your eyes being open or closed. Needless to say, if your light goes out – you’re not getting out.
Not without some help, at least.
Drills begin with training inside the habitat, walking through every step of the simulation together down to small details including notifying mission support. It’s important to make sure mission support is absolutely sure that its just a practice injury/problem. They can be overbearing mothers sometimes. I hope one of them is reading this. Maybe they’re one of my two followers.
After some run-throughs comes the real-deal, followed by a debrief. You would be surprised how much you can learn from a practice drill and how much post-mortem conversations help to evaluate what was done correctly, what crew limitations are, and what improvements could be made.
Having safety as a top priority has had some interesting consequences. First, I feel a kinship to Bones whenever I watch Star Trek. Secondly, I’ve realized that safety in an operational setting is extremely vital for mission success. A serious injury could result in mission failure or in a need to brake the simulation, which none of us want.
Recovery time alone would make the level of threat on a real Mars mission immense. Your fastest ambulance to Earth would take the better part of the year. That means a Martian crew needs to have the capability to handle medical emergencies. What level of medical emergencies is the real question. Researchers consider the amount of flights which tells you how many explorers you will have in a given period, general expected health of those astronauts, and time spent on a mission to try and make estimations on expected number of injuries over a time period. It’s kind of like being an insurance adjuster, but way more interesting. The key conclusion is that with enough time and flights, a certain number of accidents are statistically expected.
Human spaceflight is a dangerous endeavor. There will be accidents and losses as there have been in the past. However, if we dedicate the proper resources to it and learn from past mistakes, crew safety can be maximized.
I’m lucky here on HI-SEAS to have crew performance and safety as a part of my job. It’s a low-risk way to get a good perspective on how important that responsibility is, and that being prepared for an emergency is not something that can be postponed.