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by Ben Piper September 27, 2006 - 5:58pm, 40 Comments

The team of Zero-G surgeons in front of the Airbus 300

French surgeons performed the first zero-gravity operation on Wednesday on board a free-falling plane to simulate an operation in space.

In a trial-run of sorts, Dominique Martin, head of Bordeaux University Hospital’s plastic surgery unit, removed a fatty cyst from the forearm of volunteer patient Philippe Sanchot. The operation was the first of its kind, with the notion of in-space surgery as a possibility – and necessity - of the future.

The surgery was performed in 32 sequences, in which an Airbus 300 Zero G aircraft flew in arcs and entered a free fall, creating 22 seconds of weightlessness each run. The procedure was performed in 11 minutes.

Martin mentioned after the surgery that, “If we had had two hours of continuous weightlessness, we could have operated on an appendectomy.” Martin also stressed the importance of the procedure, saying “Today, if there’s an absolute emergency up there, an intracranial hematoma for instance, we can’t do anything.” Because the body responds differently at zero-gravity, Martin and the other French surgeons created a special vacuum aspirator to contain the blood from the incision.

There is speculation that one day, specially developed robots will perform this sort of surgery in space, controlled from the ground, and backed by humans on board the ship.

In related news, on Tuesday a privately-funded rocket crashed in New Mexico en route to (sub) orbit after a malfunction at 40,000 feet. The launch marked the first from the US’s only official commercial spaceport, Spaceport America. The UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL rocket was carrying cremated remains and a school project, but the team is hopeful that the materials remain intact.