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Ultrasound in space

Are you aware that the only medical imaging modality that truly works in space is ultrasound?

Mission ultrasound

During our “Echo Heart Beat” meeting in Bangalore I had the chance to discuss this topic with James D. Thomas one of the leading experts in the field of echocardiography, past president of the American Society of Echocardiography and now affiliated with the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

James Thomas is working together with NASA for the Space Shuttle mission, looking into the potential of ultrasound and studying the cardiovascular effects of space on astronauts.

During our dinner James mentioned:

„Echocardiography stands out as the only thing that is going to work in space, it doesn’t have radiation, it doesn’t have a magnet. It is relatively low power and it’s light weight”

Image Jim Thomas Dinner with Jim Thomas talking about US in space

And here is a video of the very first echo performed in space:

Imaging the heart in space

Why ultrasound might be important

But can astronauts interpret the study? No need - the images are transmitted down to earth where James Thomas and his team read the studies. But, why would you need echo in space in the first place? Imagine you are on a longer space mission to some distant planet and you get sick. And this does happen (as you will read in my next newsletter). Ultrasound could help here. At present however, it is more about studying the effects of space travel on the cardiovascular system. Pretty dramatic changes as you will read next time.

“Minor problems”

Of course ultrasound in space has its difficulties. For example: you will need to strap the astronaut down otherwise too much pressure on the transducer will send your “patient” soaring away. But, even more important astronauts need training in ultrasound. This is what James Thomas and his team does. And believe it or not as James told me “they learn quickly and get quite good at it”

What is the bottom line? It is just amazing how universal this technique is and..

“if even astronauts can learn ultrasound – why cant you? “

Here is your chance...

PS: If you want to see what would happen to an astronaut if he is “lost in space” watch this video from V101 Science:

Video demonstrating what would happen to an astronaut if he loses connection to the shuttle

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