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Tommaso Ghidini, Ph.D., Head of the Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division at the European Space Agency (ESA), delivers a rousing overview of the medical advances that are improving options for astronauts on long-term missions.

Ghidini holds a Ph.D. in experimental and numerical Fracture Mechanics from the Institute of Materials Research of the German Aerospace Centre. Ghidini has been involved with many important civil and military aircraft developments through the years, including the A380, the A350, and the A400M developed at AIRBUS Industries. In 2007, Ghidini joined the European Space Agency (ESA) and is the Head of the Materials Technology Section.

Ghidini explains his work, detailing the 3D printing of human tissue for long-term missions in space, such as going to Mars. As he explains, on long-term missions you cannot stop and come back, you must continue, so if there is a medical emergency you need to be prepared to handle it in space. Even the healthiest astronauts can have accidents, burns, etc. that must be dealt with when they happen. As accidents on Mars, such as falls, could be more severe than on the moon, advanced surgery capabilities are going to be necessary.

Ghidini talks about the various medical options for these missions. He outlines what will be necessary, such as appropriately trained staff on board, and suitable surgery rooms, etc. And while telemedicine would seem like a good option, it is not possible because of the delays in transmission. However, if there was a space station on Mars, there could be telemedicine from the space station, but that is not yet a consideration.

Ghidini discusses their extensive testing of the 3D printers, in reduced gravity, etc. Ghidini explains the process and gives details about the 3D printed skin that comes from stem cells. With 3D printed skin there is no need to retrieve skin from another part of the body for a burn, etc., thus, a second wound is not created—better for recovery, and better for efficiency. Ghidini states that ‘rejection’ is low because the skin comes from stem cells from the astronaut’s own body.

The ESA expert continues by discussing the many challenges of taking 3D printing into space. He explains that radiation is a factor to consider, as is sterility. Ghidini’s work at ESA is on the cutting edge of technology and his contributions to space travel will be seen for many years to come.

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