FAST at MACH 20: clinical ultrasound aboard the International Space Station

J Trauma. 2005 Jan;58(1):35-9. doi: 10.1097/01.ta.0000145083.47032.78.


Background: Focused assessment with sonography for trauma (FAST) examination has been proved accurate for diagnosing trauma when performed by nonradiologist physicians. Recent reports have suggested that nonphysicians also may be able to perform the FAST examination reliably. A multipurpose ultrasound system is installed on the International Space Station as a component of the Human Research Facility. Nonphysician crew members aboard the International Space Station receive modest training in hardware operation, sonographic techniques, and remotely guided scanning. This report documents the first FAST examination conducted in space, as part of the sustained effort to maintain the highest possible level of available medical care during long-duration space flight.

Methods: An International Space Station crew member with minimal sonography training was remotely guided through a FAST examination by an ultrasound imaging expert from Mission Control Center using private real-time two-way audio and a private space-to-ground video downlink (7.5 frames/second). There was a 2-second satellite delay for both video and audio. To facilitate the real-time telemedical ultrasound examination, identical reference cards showing topologic reference points and hardware controls were available to both the crew member and the ground-based expert.

Results: A FAST examination, including four standard abdominal windows, was completed in approximately 5.5 minutes. Following commands from the Mission Control Center-based expert, the crew member acquired all target images without difficulty. The anatomic content and fidelity of the ultrasound video were excellent and would allow clinical decision making.

Conclusions: It is possible to conduct a remotely guided FAST examination with excellent clinical results and speed, even with a significantly reduced video frame rate and a 2-second communication latency. A wider application of trauma ultrasound applications for remote medicine on earth appears to be possible and warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Aerospace Medicine / education*
  • Aerospace Medicine / methods*
  • Astronauts
  • Humans
  • Remote Consultation / methods*
  • Satellite Communications
  • Space Flight*
  • Traumatology / education*
  • Traumatology / methods*
  • Ultrasonography
  • United States
  • United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnostic imaging*