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Telemed J. 1998 Spring;4(1):19-30.

Applications of telemedicine in the United States space program.

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  • 1NASA Headquarters, Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications, Washington, D.C., USA.


Since the beginning of human space flight, NASA has been placing humans in extreme and remote environments. There are many challenges in maintaining humans in outer space, including the provision of life-support systems, radiation shielding, and countermeasures for minimizing the effect of microgravity. Because astronauts are selected for their health, among other factors, disease and illness are minimized. However, it is still of great importance to have appropriate medical care systems in place to address illness and injury should they occur. With the exception of the Apollo program, exploration of space has been limited to missions that are within several hundred miles of the surface of the Earth. At the drawn of the 21st century and the new millennium, human exploration will be focused on operation of the International Space Station (ISS) and preparation for human missions to Mars. These missions will present inherent risks to human health, and, therefore, appropriate plans must be established to address these challenges and risks. Crews of long-duration missions must become more independent from ground controllers. New systems, protocols, and procedures are currently being perfected. Application of emerging technologies in information systems and telecommunications will be critical to inflight medical care. Application of these technologies through telemedicine will provide crew members access to information, noninvasive procedures for assessing health status, and guidance through the integration of sensors, holography, decision-support systems, and virtual environments. These technologies will also serve as a basis to enhance training and medical education. The design of medical care for space flight should lead to a redesign of the practice of medicine on Earth.

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