One of the most wonderful results of the pursuit of science is the moment when two seemingly unrelated paths intersect – and a new application of technology is born.
When 3M’s Craig Oster and his team developed an innovative stethoscope that could close the distance between remote patients and medical health professionals, the idea that it could be sent into Earth’s orbit never crossed their minds.
And yet, in 2011, that very stethoscope – the 3M™ Littmann® Tele-Auscultation System– travelled with the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, to the International Space Station (ISS), to be used in experiments to test the ability of telemedicine (the use of telecommunication and other technologies to provide clinical health care at a distance).
Telemedicine to the extreme
Specifically, JAXA wanted to test whether an astronaut in space could perform an accurate stethoscope self-diagnosis in the low-gravity, noisy space station environment – and whether the data collected by the stethoscope could also be analysed on Earth by a specialist.
As possibilities for space exploration continue to expand, from the Mars-One mission to NASA’s discovery of other Earth-like planets, so do the future challenges for astronauts as they attempt maintain their health under extreme conditions.
“An astronauts get further and further away from Earth, they won’t be able to simply make the trip back when there’s a problem. (..) that means it’s going to be necessary for astronauts to maintain their health on their own,” says Dr. Shin Yamada, Senior Research Engineer, Space Missions Division, JAXA.
How the 3M™ Littmann® Tele-Auscultation System bridges the gap of distance
The stethoscope system uses two of the scopes, which communicate with one another via a Bluetooth® connection and special software.
The first scope picks up the patient’s heart and other body sounds (while cancelling out distracting ambient noise) and then transmits the sound over a secure, encrypted digital signal (in real time) to the other scope, whether it’s across the city, the world – or – even in space.
Heartbeat to ground control
In ground control, a doctor listened to the orbiting astronaut’s heartbeat, and it sounded exactly the same as if they had met in person.
The experiment was a success and signaled one more step towards helping to remove one of the barriers to future space exploration.
Learn more about the 3M™Littmann® Tele-Auscultation System.