HOUSTON. – 02 Mar 11
MSOE Student Instrumental in Testing New ISS HMS Medical Kits
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Space medicine is different than medicine on Earth. The most obvious reason first—there is no gravity in space. On the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts live in zero-G for periods of up to 6 months or more, and this can be quite taxing on the body.
“On the ground, many resources are available to diagnose ailments and treat conditions. However, once in orbit these resources are not as readily available. For example, if a medical emergency ensues in orbit, paramedics cannot rush to the ISS,” said Stefanie Gonzalez, a student at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).
Gonzalez spent 15 weeks at Johnson Space Center in Houston this fall, interning through the Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP). For her project, she was paired with NASA Mentor Gwyn Smith to work on the redesign of the ISS Health Maintenance System (HMS) medical kits that will be launched in April on the Russian Progress Spacecraft, 42-P.
Gonzalez explained, “This redesign has been in the works for a little over two years and prior to my arrival, a Critical Design Review ensued where the [NASA] community voiced concerns on potential issues with the design.”
Therefore, it became her responsibility to help the Health Maintenance System team develop creative solutions to these concerns and to test over 200 pieces of hardware to ensure they met flight requirements. Once tested, she implemented all the changes in the mock kits that astronauts use to train. All astronauts are trained in first response techniques, basic paramedic skills that are used in the case of an emergency, but the astronaut on the scene is only as good as the tools provided, making the development of functional medical kits paramount.
“My first day on site I had no idea about the design process at NASA,” noted Gonzalez; “I knew even less about the Health Maintenance System hardware. However, I worked hard to learn about these processes, asked questions, and dove into the work.” Now that she has interned with USRP, Gonzalez knows all the ins and outs of the NASA design process: “how regulations, requirements, standards, failure modes and effects must be certified to reach the next design phase.”
In addition to working on the ISS HMS medical kits, Gonzalez assisted with the redesign of SharePoint, Radio Frequency Identification, Hardware Disbursement, and testing a portable clinical blood analyzer. “What I enjoyed the most was that every day was different, constant collaboration ensued to ensure that the redesign of medical kits would be a successful operation,” remarked Gonzalez. “Another great part of the internship was that I got to work with astronauts!” She continued, “The main challenge was integrating a variety of tasks while remaining on schedule. I learned the importance of being organized and working efficiently.”
Gonzalez did not think she would go to college when she started high school; her brother was the first in the family to earn a college degree. His example inspired her to enter college, and she plans to graduate in the fall of 2011, to pursue a graduate degree at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and then follow-on with a doctorate researching the effects of microgravity on the human body.
NASA, too, falls in line with Gonzalez’s goals. She said, “I have developed a passion for NASA because it is an agency that fosters lifelong learning, innovative solutions, and community involvement.”