USSPACECOM forum discusses need for space-savvy medical personnel

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Melissa Runge
U.S. Space Command’s office of the Command Surgeon hosted the 2nd USSPACECOM Joint Space Medicine Forum April 18-19, at the Catalyst Campus in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

The two-day event brought together 37 medical leaders from combatant commands, service components, academia and NASA. 

This year’s event emphasized a growing need for medical personnel to be “space savvy," placing a greater focus on developing a working knowledge of care for those involved in both ground-based and space-based operational missions.

USSPACECOM Chief of Staff U.S. Navy RADM William Pennington provided opening comments and a mission brief, which kicked off important discussions about the medical implications surrounding threats to space, vulnerability and exponential growth.  Additionally, given USSPACECOM’s role as the DoD Manager for Human Space Flight Support, Pennington spoke on the risks to human space activities presented by the congested space environment.

Representatives from USSPACECOM’s service components provided operational updates on their missions supporting human space flight support. U.S. Air Force Col. Jason “Newt” Gingrich, Air Forces SPACE Deputy, focused his remarks on AFSPACE’s function as Air Component to USSPACECOM, which includes their responsibility supporting global contingency rescue under the Commercial Crew Program.

Looking ahead to the upcoming Artemis II mission, U.S. Navy Capt. Lynelle Boamah, command surgeon for U.S. Navy Third Fleet, also spoke on their role in recovery operations and the unique capabilities required to fulfill those requirements.

Though there are unique requirements surrounding medical and health services support to human spaceflight, leaders within Department of Defense’s medical fields are hopeful that fostering a greater awareness of these specialized missions leads to an expanded curriculum in aerospace medical schoolhouses that cover the breadth of DoD space operations.

There was a reported increase in schoolhouse collaboration initiatives and greater commitments to space education following last year’s inaugural Space Medicine Forum, highlighting the impact of facilitating these discussions. For example, both the Air Force and Navy Residency in Aerospace Medicine programs now require their physicians to participate in the NSSI’s Intro to Space course, gaining crucial operational space knowledge.

The conference also provided a forum for leaders to discuss new initiatives for inter-agency government collaboration. Dr. Vince Michaud, deputy chief health and medical officer for NASA, introduced their organization’s strategic vision and spoke to future challenges facing the medical community, specifically relating to a need for greater consideration of human factors in research as the development of human and machine interface continues.

Ultimately, the conference was deemed a success based on the diverse population in attendance, which represented all branches of the Joint Force, non-defense government agencies, and several academic institutions. USSPACECOM command surgeon U.S. Air Force Col. Kelly Dorenkott remarked that the collaboration is vital for the Department of Defense’s medical community.

 “As U.S. Space Command progresses toward full operational capability, the Surgeon General’s office is working to solidify partnerships across all agencies who contribute to our mission,” she said. “This conference focused on validating mission requirements for Human Space Flight Support and identifying opportunities for expanded medical education and training to optimize our most precious, powerful weapon system, our people.”