September 24, 2023
polaris dawn patch on the shoulder of a black jacket

The Polaris Daybreak mission will launch no sooner than March 2023.

Picture: Polaris Program/John Kraus

The Polaris Dawn spaceflight, a SpaceX mission slated to launch as quickly as March, shall be a pioneering mission. Its crew will try the first-ever industrial spacewalk. They’re going to even be the primary crew to check Starlink laser-based communications in area. If all goes in response to plan, the mission will set a brand new file for the best Earth orbit ever flown.

Maybe simply as considerably, Polaris Daybreak goals to interrupt new floor in finding out human well being, with the crew conducting dozens of science and analysis experiments to check the results of spaceflight and area radiation on the human physique. 

Nevertheless, among the many four-person crew on the personal area mission, there’s only one member with specialised experience in human biology and medical care: Anna Menon, SpaceX’s lead area operations engineer, who labored for seven years at NASA as a biomedical flight controller for the Worldwide House Station.

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That lack of understanding left SpaceX with a singular problem: how do you put together a flight crew, with restricted time out there for coaching, to make use of medical instruments and carry out diagnostic assessments on their very own — and to do it in area, with out help, and in a spot the place the setting is clearly fully completely different from Earth’s? 

The reply, it seems, is video video games. 

SpaceX has partnered with the seven-year-old firm Stage Ex to coach the Polaris Daybreak crew to carry out medical ultrasound procedures. Stage Ex makes use of refined, real-time simulation expertise to gamify medical coaching — all on functions you’ll be able to obtain in your cellphone. 

Stage Ex’s mission — founder and CEO Sam Glassenberg mentioned to ZDNET — is “advancing the observe of drugs by way of play.” 

The corporate is “accelerating the adoption curve of recent therapies and new gadgets utilizing online game tech and online game design,” he defined. “House well being is only a native extension of that.”

Stage Ex already has three million gamers utilizing its video games, together with multiple million medical professionals, in response to Glassenberg. Its portfolio of video games are designed for specialists akin to cardiologists and pulmonologists. In Gastro Ex, for instance, medical doctors can observe performing GI procedures with completely different endoscopic instruments within seemingly actual — however really digital — anatomy. Airway Ex, in the meantime, lets medical doctors observe intubating digital sufferers in life like OR settings.

screenshot of Level Ex game, showing a virtual rendering of a patient opening his mouth

A screenshot of a Stage Ex recreation, displaying a digital rendering of a affected person opening his mouth.

Picture: Stage Ex

Stage Ex affords the one video games, Glassenberg mentioned, which you can play to earn Persevering with Medical Training (CME) credit score for renewing your medical license. The corporate additionally works with almost three dozen of the most effective life-science machine makers to speed up the educational and adoption of their applied sciences. 

Medical coaching simulations resonate with medical professionals as a result of it is an enormous step up from the choice — studying to carry out new procedures or use new instruments on reside sufferers. That very same logic clearly extends to coaching astronauts, who merely do not have the time for full medical coaching. Astronauts will practice for years to affix a week-long area mission. With a lot to study, “we do not have time to provide everybody a medical diploma in area well being,” Glassenberg mentioned. 

On prime of that, practising on Earth is not going to copy the circumstances in area, anyway. “Your coronary heart bodily modifications form — it turns into extra spherical in microgravity — and your blood move modifications route,” Glassenberg famous. “So how do we all know that what you are is regular?”

In 2019, Stage Ex obtained a grant from NASA to create probably the most life like real-time ultrasound simulation ever, to offer what’s referred to as “just-in-time” coaching to astronauts. NASA tapped the gaming firm with its eventual missions to Mars in thoughts. 

“Think about you are 9 months into the Mars mission,” Glassenberg mentioned. “Hastily, one of many astronauts grabs his chest in microgravity and rolls over unconscious. And what if it is the flight surgeon?”  

On a mission so removed from Earth, the astronauts aboard would not have the ability to name into mission management for assist. They’d additionally discover themselves in a resource-constrained setting, the place ultrasound is the one medical imaging expertise out there. 

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Constructing on the work it began with NASA, Stage Ex then partnered with SpaceX and others to develop just-in-time coaching and in-flight procedural steering to assist crews use an ultrasound. In the course of the Polaris Daybreak mission, the crew will monitor their blood move patterns and measure the effectiveness of just-in-time coaching, with the last word purpose of making ready future area vacationers to watch their well being throughout long-term missions. 

“They’re making an attempt to organize us for residing in area,” Glassenberg mentioned. 

Whereas Stage Ex’s video games are designed for cellular gadgets, its graphics are on par with these of console video games. “You will not discover fluid dynamics and the issues we’re doing within cellular video games,” Glassenberg mentioned. 

The corporate holds its personal on stage at SIGGRAPH, the distinguished pc graphics convention that commonly honors giants within the gaming business akin to Nvidia and Unity. 

“One of many benefits we have now is that they’re creating characters within environments,” Glassenberg mentioned of typical recreation creators, whereas “we’re creating environments within characters.” 

Earlier than beginning Stage Ex, Glassenberg helped construct realistic-looking video video games at Microsoft and LucasArts. He developed the primary Stage Ex recreation as a favor for his dad, a doctor on the lookout for higher simulations of fiber-optic intubation. 

Getting medical doctors to make use of gamified coaching apps was “surprisingly simple,” he mentioned.  

“We have been nervous early on about embracing the video games branding, however we discovered it resonates. Docs are folks, too. They play video video games.”