How have these experiences colored and affected your time in space?
Every astronaut is different. There is no set path. What space agencies are really looking for is a type of crane, because once you get into space, you need to be able to solve almost any problem.
At heart I am truly an engineer. My basic preference is a love of machines. I just love solving problems and then putting them in a box. I think the basic definition of medicine is really an interest in people. You put yourself in someone’s shoes and then decide, “What would I do if it was me, my brother, or my mom?” That was fascinating to me in medicine. It brings you to the core of what it is to be human. It helps you cut through the noise of culture and reach the hearts of individuals. It is super useful in space. You can talk in a really calming way and put things in perspective and be helpful. And it’s always soothing if there’s a condition on board. It is somehow up to us for the crew to take care of each other.
You went back to the doctor during the pandemic. Has being in space changed in your approach to medicine?
I firmly feel that I am still in space – I am only on the mother ship Earth. That perspective never leaves me. From space you see the Earth and it is of course beautiful: glowing blue, and the oceans and city lights at night are a gracious kind of dance of life. But what is most striking is when you turn your back from the Earth and look the other way. And everything you see is nothing – just emptiness. You can imagine it lasting forever. It is very nice to see how many people are exposed to this little fragile wonder of the planet. It gave me some very lovely love for people and how amazing it is to stick to this place and develop all this culture, raise children, be inventive and create art. It made me love people.
For people unfamiliar with the intersection of space and medicine, how would you describe some of the ways the medical research we do in space will benefit people on Earth?
We do a lot of space research on astronauts. Because there are a bunch of diseases that affect astronauts. Just staying in a space environment is bad for you. There is no sense of gravity; space, radiation, isolation and closure – stress in this environment is very bad for you. So, we are like perfect guinea pigs for medical research: bone health, cardiovascular health, cerebral health, psychology, psychology, hematology, immunology – as you say.
Another aspect is medical technology. We need to train astronauts to help themselves and help each other in this super-remote environment. This problem is identical to the problem we face here on Earth when we provide medical care to people living in rural and remote areas, workers in hazardous areas, our military on missions, large expeditions, or elderly people who are too fragile to go to the clinic. . So, the problem of bringing medicine to a patient is a very modern thing. And I think the pandemic has given us all a great appetite for that ability to bring medicine to the patient – using space to test how these things work.