17
$\begingroup$

phlebotomists are (nearly always) highly skilled people who safely and relatively painlessly poke our veins with big needles, take blood samples, then ask us to "press here". The process is called a phlebotomy.

the surgical opening or puncture of a vein in order to withdraw blood, to introduce a fluid, or (historically) when letting blood.

This requires training, practice, a medical background and will often require certification.

It's normally done in a medical setting so if there are any unexpected challenges they can be dealt with.

Phlebotomy has no doubt been common in spaceflight, medical research on the health effects of spaceflight has been central from its beginnings and is highly active today as extended missions are considered.

Question: Are all modern astronauts at least passable phlebotomists?

This would be a real challenge to do on yourself because of both geometry and human nature, every crew member will need at least one other crew member to be able to do this, so in crews of 2 or more there needs to be at least two passable phlebotomists.

Is it something that most or all astronauts are capable of doing, or are there just a few "designated drivers" in each crew?

Do astronauts phlebotomize each other during ground training for practice?


From the NASA.gov feature NASA Researchers Develop a Technique to Predict Radiation Risk on International Space Station Missions:

Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide poses for a photo after undergoing a generic blood draw in the European Laboratory/Columbus Orbital Facility (COF)

Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide poses for a photo after undergoing a generic blood draw in the European Laboratory/Columbus Orbital Facility (COF).

$\endgroup$
13
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ It's not that difficult. Plenty of IV drug users inject themselves. $\endgroup$
    – PM 2Ring
    Aug 22 at 11:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @PM2Ring it may become easier after a while, and of course plenty of other horrible and/or unconscionable things become "not that difficult" to do once someone is thoroughly addicted to opioids. I don't think it's a reasonable point. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 22 at 12:40
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a fumbled phlebotomy. $\endgroup$ Aug 22 at 15:54
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ It took me, as a pre-clinical medical student, about 2 minutes to learn how to take venous blood. I rather think it won’t take someone competent enough to be an astronaut any longer than it took me - taking venous blood from fit adults is easy. $\endgroup$
    – rhialto
    Aug 22 at 17:27
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ @alephzero No that's incorrect. IV = intravenous, the needle must puncture a vein under the skin, and for phlebotomy the needle is unusually large in diameter and called a cannula. On the other hand, diabetics need to inject insulin into the layer of fat directly under the skin, known as subcutaneous tissue, with a small needle or a device that looks like a pen Apples and oranges. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 22 at 22:09
52
$\begingroup$

By my count, the OP asks three questions. I'll anecdotally answer two of them ("Is it something that most or all astronauts are capable of doing, or are there just a few "designated drivers" in each crew?" and "Do astronauts phlebotomize each other during ground training for practice?").

I was the "backup" medical officer for STS-109 (the primary medical officer was a veterinarian!).

While training for said mission, I went to the medical clinic at the Johnson Space Center after hours for IV training. NASA had paid an unfortunate volunteer (someone who worked on site) to be my test dummy.

It took me about four pokes to succeed (those little catheters are hard to slide into the vein!). I felt bad for the stickee and did not enjoy the session. There was other medical-related training for me, but that was it as far as starting IV's.

$\endgroup$
17
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ @pcman Inserting an IV is harder than drawing blood, and drawing blood is harder than a subcutaneous injection. $\endgroup$ Aug 22 at 18:14
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity, by "backup medical officer," do you mean that the mission had both a primary and backup medical officer on board when it flew or that only one medical officer was needed for the mission with a backup trained as an alternate in case the primary planned medical officer couldn't fly? $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Aug 23 at 6:13
  • 19
    $\begingroup$ @PcMan - the vets I know are really good at IVs, particularly the small animal (pets) ones. Try finding a vein on a cat and getting it in without completely pissing off the cat - you get one try... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 23 at 13:13
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket You didn't ask me, and I'm in infantry not space flight, but I have self-administered an IV while underway in a tracked vehicle bouncing up and down. So it is possible under adverse conditions. But my arm was bruised from armpit to elbow afterwards, as blood seeps from the vein under the skin during the procedure. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Aug 23 at 14:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @reirab Not certain, but I'm pretty sure that the policy was to have at least two medically-trained crew on board (the thought being, "What if the primary medical officer gets incapacitated?"). Space flight planners are generally in love with redundancy any way they can get it. Organic Marble might know the answer to your question. $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Aug 23 at 20:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.