Do astronauts on extended missions ever develop illnesses/head colds while on the job?

It's easy to imagine that once zero-g surgery becomes a more routine prospect, it could very well cause an explosive growth in new and exciting surgical techniques (and necessitate a completely redesigned operating theatre and tools).

A lot of the innovation won't be particularly obvious to the lay public in the sense of 'amazing sci-fi operations', but it could be revolutionary for many day-to-day techniques.

It's been ages since I've been in OT, and I have no specialist knowledge of zero-g surgery, so this should be considered purely speculative but here are some ways I could see zero-g being applied to common surgical situations.

"I can't see what I'm doing because this enormous mass of intestines keeps collapsing on itself"

This is usually solved by having assistants trying to haul and drag uncooperative intestinal loops out of the way with big metal retractors.

Zero-g offers the possibility of working on bowel loops that are essentially free-floating (some fixation would still be required to solve inertial issues).


Fluids misbehaving is another very common occurrence in many sorts of procedures. We're forever washing things out, and sucking out the blood/wash/ascitic fluid/urine/pus/etc that is obscuring vision and making But the behaviour of liquids in zero-g is very different! This is certainly a double edged sword, but surgery has a tradition of extremely clever solutions that take advantage of the properties and behaviour of the tissues and materials that surgeons have to work with.

It's possible to conceive of very radical approaches to managing body fluid issues, although only time will tell how practical any one of them might be. For example, fluid being pushed out of a cavity under slight pressure usually just gathers all over the tissues and obscures vision as gravity pulls it flat, but in zero-g, it will have inertia and maintain globular form. Could you then discard traditional lavage techniques and simply collect this fluid by intercepting its vector? Instead of gathering all fluid into suction containers to be disposed off, could we manage the fluid in a free floating state?

Highly, highly speculative, but very interesting to think about the possibilities for innovation.

"Now if I bend myself into a pretzel and balance on one foot, maybe I can juuuust see..."

Quite a bit of cleverness has been devoted to the issue of positioning, but the fact that both the surgeon and the patient are usually fixed to the floor is frequently the source of frustrations.

Zero-G would open up quite the array of possibilities for positioning both the patient and operating team!

Those are just a few thoughts, there is an enormous amount of room for innovation and imagination. That said, it would not a revolution in health care, nor would it create a new treatment paradigm in the same way that gene therapy, stem cell therapy and nanotechnology will. But it would be revolutionary for surgical technique.

/r/askscience Thread Parent