Introduction: A surgical procedure has never been required or performed on a human in space. Parabolic microgravity simulations have suggested that surgery would be technically feasible during spaceflight.
Procedures: Survival surgery was performed for the first time on rats during the STS-90 Neurolab Shuttle mission. Craniotomy, leg dissection, thoracotomy, laminectomy, and laparotomy were performed as a part of physiological investigations.
Results: Surgical techniques successfully demonstrated in rats during spaceflight included general anesthesia, wound closure, wound healing, hemostasis, control of surgical fluids, operator restraint, and control of surgical instruments. No decrement in manual dexterity was noted by the crew, although operative time was longer compared with ground experience due to the need to maintain restraint of surgical supplies and instruments.
Conclusions: The demonstration that technically demanding dissections could be accomplished successfully in space on rats suggests that comparable complex surgical procedures should be feasible on humans, if necessary, on future long-duration missions.