How did these experiences color and affect your time in space?
Every astronaut is different. There is no definite path. What space agencies are really looking for is sort of a jack of all trades, because once you’re in space you need to be able to solve just about any problem.
I am truly an engineer at heart. My fundamental inclination is a love for machines. I just like to solve problems and then put them in a box. I think the basic definition of medicine is really of interest to people. You put yourself in someone’s shoes and then decide, “What would I do if it was me, or my brother, or my mother?” This is what I found fascinating in medicine. This brings you to the heart of what it is to be human. It helps you cut through the noise of culture, touch the hearts of individuals. It’s super useful in space. You can speak in a really reassuring way and put it in perspective and be helpful. And it’s always reassuring if there is a condition on board. For the crew, it’s a bit of us to take care of each other.
You became a practicing physician again during the pandemic. Has being in space changed your approach to medicine?
I strongly feel that I am still in space, I am just on the mothership Earth. This prospect never leaves me. From space you glimpse the Earth, and it is of course beautiful: a brilliant blue, and the oceans and city lights at night are a kind of graceful dance of life. But what’s most impressive is when you turn your back to Earth and look the other way. And all you see is nothing, just a void. You can imagine it lasts forever. It is very endearing to see how much humans are exposed to this fragile little miracle of a planet. It gave me a very endearing kind of love for humans, and how amazing it is that we hold onto this place and develop all this culture, raise kids, be inventive and create art. It made me like people.
For people unfamiliar with the intersection of space and medicine, how would you describe some of the ways that the medical research we are conducting in space will benefit people on Earth?
We do a lot of research in space on astronauts. Because there are a bunch of ailments that affect astronauts. Just being in the space environment is bad for you. No sense of gravity; space, radiation, isolation and confinement: the stress of this environment is simply very bad for you. We are therefore like perfect guinea pigs for medical research: bone health, cardiovascular health, brain health, psychology, psychology, hematology, immunology, etc.
The other aspect concerns medical technology. We need to make astronauts able to help and help each other in this ultra-remote environment. This problem is the same as the problem we face here on Earth when we enable medical care for people who live in rural and remote areas, workers in hazardous environments, our military on mission, large expeditions or the elderly. which are too fragile to even go to a clinic. So this problem of bringing medication to the patient is a very modern thing. And I think the pandemic has given us all a great appetite for this ability to deliver medicine to the patient – using the space to test how these things work.