former astronaut who’s also a physician believes extreme and distant
environments are "incredible test beds” for technologies that will
MD, a veteran of five Space shuttle flights, is now chief medical
officer for the Center for Polar Medical Operations, which supports the
National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program. Read about the doctor’s extraordinary adventures and observations in a FastCompany story by Neal Ungerleider.
Dr. Parazynski says he is drawn to remote and challenging environments, and Antarctica may
have the worst the world has to offer. It’s almost completely dark for
six months, the temperature hovers around minus 70 degrees F. and
conditions make air traffic virtually impossible from February through
October. Dr. Parazynski says it’s akin to being on Mars, or the back
side of the moon, where every act requires forethought and errors can
kill. He finds it a rewarding place to work and study.
"I think the drive toward Apollo
and the things we got from the lunar program revolutionized medicine,”
Dr. Parazynski told Fast Company. "The miniaturization of technologies,
sensors, and microelectronics that are now ubiquitous in our intensive
care units...the monitors you see... they’re all ‘space pedigree’.”
says medicine practiced today in remote and harsh places will lead to
advances in telemedicine and point of care diagnostic and therapeutic
devices, as well as microelectronics, nanotechnology, genomics, and
metabolomics. He thinks they will also advance "MacGyver medicine" named after the TV secret agent
who had the skills and ingenuity to rescue almost anyone from almost
anywhere, creating tools he needed from materials at hand. As one
example, Dr. Parazynski describes how Dr. Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald diagnosed
her own breast cancer during the Austral Winter in 1999 when no plane
could land anywhere near the Antarctic outpost. She was the only
physician there. She performed her own biopsy, with the help of a
resident welder who practiced by sticking needles in apples and yams.
Chemotherapy drugs were delivered by a dangerous air drop. Her cancer
went into remission, but returned in 2005 and she died in 2009.
Parazynski recommends breaking up any difficult task into manageable
parts rather than trying to achieve the whole goal all at once. He says
he applied that principle to mountain climbing, medicine, and his early
ambition to become an astronaut. He has climbed mountains all over the
world, and is the only person to have flown in space and reached the top
of Mount Everest.
a physician and researcher at Concordia, a jointly sponsored
French-Italian research station in Antarctica, is conducting scientific
experiments for the European Space Agency’s human spaceflight program.
His studies include examinations of sleep patterns, dreams and
nightmares and behavioral and cognitive changes induced by isolation
and perpetual darkness. Read his New York Times blog.