NASA cargo mission to send robot doctor into space

NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for the latest launch expedition to the International Space Station next week, which will see the first surgical medical robot installed at the facility.

The Cygnus cargo ship, built by aerospace multinational Northrop Grumman, will carry technology and equipment to the orbiting station that includes a miniature robot that can be remotely controlled from Earth to perform surgery.

Known as MIRA, short for “miniaturized in-vivo robotic assistant,” the robot was invented by Professor Shane Farritor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in tandem with Virtual Incision, a startup he co-founded.

After ‘reporting’ for duty, MIRA will be stored in a special locker, where it will cut stretched rubber bands and push rings in gestures that simulate surgery in microgravity conditions. Data collected through these operations will then be cross-referenced with experiments conducted on our planet where normal gravity applies.

“The rubber bands simulate surgical tissue because they provide tension so that dissection can be performed,” a NASA spokesperson told Cybernews. “Similar to a surgical procedure, the left arm will grasp while the right arm will cut. The two-handed approach is critical because local tension is key to determining the ideal locations to resect, and to cut in the desired way – avoiding blood vessels, for example.”

Other state-of-the-art science installations and technology delivered to the facility will include a special cartilage cell culture to prevent astronauts from developing bone deficiencies in low gravity, an automated semiconductor manufacturing platform, and a 3D printer that will attempt to create small metal components similar to nails or screws.

“Microgravity causes cartilage degeneration that could hinder the health and performance of people on long-term space missions and in environments with lower gravity levels such as the Moon and Mars,” said NASA, which hopes that results of experiments involving the cell culture will lead to development of drugs to treat the condition on Earth as well as in space.

Cygnus will be carried to its destination by the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, which will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 29th, arriving two days later with its 8,200lb cargo of equipment and supplies.

It will remain docked at the space station until May, when it will be jettisoned and burn up harmlessly in the Earth’s atmosphere.

On January 26th, an international webinar will be held featuring experts including NASA Biological and Physical Sciences Division head Lisa Carnell, MIRA designer Farritor, and Michael Roberts, chief scientific officer at the International Space Station’s lab.

Live television coverage of the launch of Cygnus and its subsequent capture by the space station’s mechanical arm upon arrival will begin on January 29th at 12.15pm local time.

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