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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The sky is no longer the limit

The Saigon Times

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Dr. Josef Schmid, a flight surgeon who takes cares of the health of NASA astronauts, is one of three scientists who participated in the Vietnam Space Week in early June. Following the event, he spoke with The Saigon Times on how combination with space science has prompted medical science to go to great lengths. There are numerous things to discover anew in the medical field. Excerpts:

The Saigon Times: We are honored to conduct an interview with you as a highly-esteemed surgeon of NASA on the occasion of your participation in the Vietnam Space Week. What key points did you plan to bring to the event, your rich experiences as a flight surgeon for astronauts, their families, and other flight surgeons?

Dr. Josef Schmid: Joining Medicine and Engineering brings us incredible opportunities to better the lives of every single person on and off the planet. Students will enjoy their studies and their professional lives if they pursue subjects that meet Ikigai (*): Things you enjoy, are good at, that you can get paid enough for and that are good for the world.

Occupational Medicine which is the field of medicine that supports people doing their jobs and the companies that provide the jobs is so very valuable as it prevents illness and injuries on the job and can preserve a person’s career, their livelihood and their family’s lives as well.

Choosing a STEM career literally opens the world to students. Aerospace and Space Medicine is a profession that can take you into aviation, mountaineering, diving, space and even into cyberspace.

I come to Vietnam as a complete volunteer and without any affiliation other than my professional background and it is an incredible lifelong honor to share my story and hopefully open up your students’ eyes to the myriad of possibilities but also the tools and the training pathways to get there. The sky is no longer the limit!

To become a surgeon with NASA, what are the key qualities required of a medical doctor, and what are the key differences between a space surgeon and a general practitioner?

– Space Medicine is a subspeciality of Aerospace Medicine. While Aerospace Medicine involves certifying, training and supporting aviators and other people involved in terrestrial aviation and other extreme environments, Space Medicine provides that medical support to the highest elevation and into space. We are on the team with engineers to help design spacecraft to protect and support human life in the vacuum and microgravity of space. Those designs include life support systems, safety, abort and contingency equipment, spacesuits for spacewalks, human habitation systems including nutrition galleys and toilet equipment, exercise devices and communication systems. We have our own medical and surgical equipment including diagnostic devices and medicines, environmental monitoring and all the procedures needed to deliver medical care in space.

A general practitioner is similar in that the physician also can be responsible for all aspects of their patients’ health, from routine medical care, physical examination and diagnosis to occupational medicine including flight and space medicine. In fact, I am a Family Physician myself, so I provide everything from primary care to space medicine.

If a physician would like to work in space medicine, they need to go beyond providing routine medical care, providing occupational medicine, and in this case, for the most extreme of occupations of a space traveler. These physicians seek training in addition to their normal profession, to include familiarization with aerospace engineering, space mission simulations, mission control console support, aviation and space communications and procedure development.

Many of us have had experiences in wilderness medicine, diving medicine and international deployments. We all know that our role is a supporting one and that most of our work is done outside of the hospital and clinic and instead at the location where our patients work. And most of all, a keen interest in Space and a desire to work on international projects with cooperation and exploration for all of humanity is the reason most of us are here.

STEM has lately been introduced – on a trial basis – into formal education in Vietnam, especially at the high-school level, and has been enthusiastically accepted. What do you think about the value of STEM in preparing young talents for an in-depth study field like medicine?

– STEM is thought of as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, but I also think it includes Medicine. The human body is an incredibly well-designed system of systems, has a central computer, wiring and communication systems, chemical processes, motors, pumps, valves, manages energy, is mobile and can interact with its environment. It has algorithms, self assembles, replicates and also repairs itself. It requires maintenance, can have problems and occasionally need repairs. Much of the STEM training students receive can be directly applied to Medicine. In fact, the most exciting developments in Medicine are coming from the combination of STEM professionals and physicians.

How should young people in Vietnam, especially talents, be prepared for new scientific dimensions, especially in Space Science, in terms of both intellectual and physical health? Do you recommend any pathway for Vietnamese talents to achieve scientific breakthroughs, principally in the medical field?

– Stay forever curious and observant through every day as you may notice something others have either forgotten about, dismissed as unimportant or may have never seen or understood. New diseases, treatments, medical and surgical technologies are all around us, we just need to discover, study and describe them to others. Combining STEM and all other professional training with Medicine will create new breakthroughs. Find friends who are not in Medicine and learn their challenges, their new and old technologies, and you will discover how you can work together to innovate and create new things.

In May 2007, you became an aquanaut through the participation in the NEEMO12 project with an exploration research mission in the world’s only undersea research laboratory named Aquarius. What are the special experiences you would like to share with Vietnamese audiences from this special mission? How valuable is the outcome from this mission for the medical industry in particular and for broadening understanding about human health in general?

– Becoming an aquanaut changed my life. Participating in that extreme environment as a crewmember, learning how to SCUBA dive and dive into saturation, conducting experiments and medical training in and outside of the ocean habitat, and designing new space equipment by first testing it there in the ocean was, as many have called it, their first space mission but without going into space. Seeing and living among the other living organisms like fish and shark and the living coral for 12 days and not needing to return to the surface was extraordinary. Learning to support humans in this extreme environment is very similar to that of space missions.

Vietnam has an incredible ocean and oceanic derived agriculture and food. It should be done carefully and safely but the ability to study the earth in that location I believe is incredibly valuable as well.

We have learned that you are the first human to be holoported off the planet and into the ISS, which is a scientific advancement largely unknown in Vietnam. What are the key takeaways for you in this scientific experience?

– Holoporation into space is a new form of human exploration and perhaps the ultimate in telemedicine. Holoportation is the transmission of a three-dimensional audio and video from one location to another. We used a “Kinect camera” (special web camera that also has LIDAR scanning so it can make a 3D image) to capture my live 3D image, the Astronaut wore a HoloLens with head-up display. My image was transmitted so the Astronauts would see me to “float” right in the middle of the space station such that you could see and hear me in three dimensions.

Holoportation is somewhat new, having been developed around 2016. However, our team were the first to be holoported off the planet and into space! For humans to be able to be instantly together in space, some that rode the rocket and others that were “beamed to orbit”, to be present on the space station and to interact as we are truly there is a new manner of both communication and telepresence. We also “beamed” a space crewmember down from orbit using the same system. In that case they were floating in front of me there in the mission control center. I felt like I was looking directly into the future. We made Science Fiction to become Science Fact!

Can holoportation be applied widely into cross-border medical practice in the foreseeable future? Is it cost-effective for the medical sector to take on this approach?

– I believe this is one future of telemedicine. Imagine having your physician able to visit you wherever you might be and interact as they are right beside you. Imagine you need to have a specialty consultation with the best physicians in the world and you can share the same space no matter where you are each located. It is so much more powerful than simple telephone or video. We have technologies like haptics and new systems to add to this. Medicine is but one of the fields for which we can use this. Imagine working on your motorbike or car and having the factory technician standing right beside you working with you. Or your best teacher joining you on a project. Or a team from many different locations all working on a project and being in the same space. This is not “virtual reality” where it creates some immersive video game where you can only see that world, this is Augmented Reality where your world is expanded and extended on and off the planet. And you are on and off the planet! And currently holoportation is being developed not only for the relatively expensive virtual reality headset devices, as it is now available on iPhone and android devices, so anyone with a “smartphone” can today use this technology! Come into the future!

Reported by Van Thang

(*) Ikigai is an ancient Japanese philosophy that defines the way Japanese people live, and it is the reason for their happiness and longevity. While traditional Japanese philosophy focuses on finding one’s bliss, Western interpretation has used ikigai as a method of finding a dream career.

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