Health Beyond Initiative
Space agencies around the world are planning for the next steps in human space exploration that will lead us to the Moon and Mars. Space exploration is an ambitious and risky undertaking, particularly for human health. Keeping astronauts safe and healthy during these long missions will be essential.
Astronauts in space and people living in remote communities face common challenges. These may include limited access to healthcare providers and medical resources. Spaceflight to destinations farther than the familiar International Space Station will bring more challenges. For example, the farther a crew travels from Earth, the longer the delay in telecommunication with support teams on Earth. This distance also makes it more difficult to deal with medical emergencies and restock supplies. Living in a spacecraft, in an extreme environment, for a long time can also affect astronauts' psychological health.
Space agencies are creating a new healthcare delivery model to respond to this reality. An ideal model would enable astronauts to manage their health and handle medical situations throughout missions. For crew to be able to prevent, diagnose, and treat any injury or illness that may occur during a mission, we need to provide them with the right tools. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is supporting the development of advanced technologies and other Canadian contributions to this new healthcare model. Our Health Beyond Initiative is exploring how, together, we can make Canada the leading country for remote healthcare in space and on Earth.
Our objective is to stimulate and support innovative and sustainable solutions that will address the healthcare challenges faced by astronauts in deep space and people living in remote communities across Canada.
This means that through Health Beyond, the CSA is working with experts and groups across Canada as well as international partners. Together, we are identifying and developing innovative medical technologies and approaches to remote healthcare delivery. These solutions will support astronauts during future missions to the Moon and Mars. They will also benefit Canadians, particularly those in communities that do not have easy access to extended healthcare.
The Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP) is preparing Canada's space sector for involvement in lunar and deep-space exploration. LEAP is supporting science and technology development across Canada through many activities, including the Health Beyond Initiative. Health Beyond was initially budgeted a total of $14 million to spend over five years beginning in . This funding was given to support medical technology research and development, the engagement of relevant parties, and the establishment of a technology demonstration site.
The CSA is exploring more and continued funding for Health Beyond past . This would enable the Initiative to continue providing opportunities for Canadian innovators, using advancements for space to support the delivery of healthcare on Earth. Together, we will build a significant contribution from Canada to the international space exploration partnership.
Three pillars of Health Beyond
The activities under the Health Beyond Initiative are grouped into three pillars:
- Vision and mobilization
Among the main drivers of the Health Beyond vision are space medicine needs, Canadian industry and academic abilities, benefits of simultaneously addressing terrestrial needs, and collaboration with international partners (such as NASA and ESA). The recommendations made in the Advisory Council Report on Deep-Space Healthcare also inform, guide, and support Health Beyond's activities. Our events, such as the annual Health Beyond Summit, and other engagement initiatives are intended to build across Canada's space health network. This network will kindle innovation and collaboration, and help mobilize Canadians around Health Beyond's vision for the future.
- Capacity building
Health Beyond seeks to stimulate and support the research and development of innovative medical technologies and treatment methods in Canada. One way we do so is through different collaborations and competitive processes.
An example of a capacity-building activity under Health Beyond is the Deep Space Healthcare Challenge co-run with Impact Canada. This Challenge supports the development of technologies that can assist health workers in detecting or diagnosing medical conditions in remote communities. Eventually, these technologies could assist astronauts on long-duration space missions.
- Demonstration and deployment
Health Beyond is working with groups across Canada on solutions for real-life operation on Earth and in space. One example underway is the Health Beyond Demonstration Project. Part of this project is to foster strategic relationships with relevant parties and build a physical Health Beyond Innovation Lab at CSA headquarters. This lab will be used to test medical technology towards advancing their development. It is also planned to establish remote hubs for further deployment in various remote and isolated communities. We are also exploring possibilities for demonstration and testing in low Earth orbit.
The work under all three pillars will be completed in close collaboration with relevant parties. This is to ensure developments and deployment on Earth are relevant, are wanted by the communities (whether northern, Indigenous, remote, etc.), and advance fair and culturally acceptable access to healthcare. Such activities taking place on Earth are in preparation for operation in space.
Putting it all together
Health Beyond has a bold vision to position Canada as the global leader of remote healthcare in space and on Earth. This ties together all of our activities and Canadian research and development that fall under our three pillars. At the centre of this vision is the Connected Care Medical Module (C²M²). A C²M² is a one-stop shop for predictive, proactive, and reactive medical care. It consists of state-of-the-art medical technologies incorporated into a mobile structure, such as a container. The technology will include a wide variety of advanced devices that will all be connected through a core computer system. This system will allow medical data to flow between devices. Such interconnection will enable the latest, greatest technologies to be incorporated into the module. We also envision the use of artificial intelligence to support the user. All of this aims to increase on-site medical capabilities and independence when it comes to remote healthcare.
The long-term objective of C²M²s is to equip astronauts to manage their health throughout long-duration missions with minimal dependence on support from Earth. In preparation for eventual usage in deep-space missions, the modules will first be created, operated, and improved with collaborators on Earth in the coming years. Doing so on Earth is much easier, faster, and more cost-effective than doing so in space. It will also maximize innovation, encourage collaboration, and serve to address today's inequalities in healthcare access across Canada.
If you have any questions regarding Health Beyond, contact us at email@example.com.
If you want to get involved in the Health Beyond Initiative, we encourage you to:
- email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the CSA's space health distribution list, and
- regularly check the CSA's Funding programs and opportunities webpage.
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