Orthopedic surgeon prepares to blast into space

The Chicago doctor will work on the International Space Station and conduct experiments inside space shuttle Atlantis during an 11-day mission.

By Christine S. Moyer — Posted Nov. 13, 2009

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Orthopedic surgeon Robert "Bobby" Satcher, MD, PhD, has traded in his scrubs for a space suit.

The specialist in child and adult bone cancer will leave behind operating rooms and the earth's atmosphere when he lifts off in space shuttle Atlantis, rocketing 5 million miles to the International Space Station. Launch is scheduled for Nov. 16, 2:28 p.m. Eastern time.


Dr. Satcher and the other five crew members will travel for three days to reach the International Space Station. One of his jobs at the station will be to operate the space shuttle's robotic arms, which "is similar to performing arthroscopic surgery in many ways," he told AAOS Now, a publication of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Dr. Satcher, 44, will be the first orthopedic surgeon to orbit the earth. And he will be No. 23 on NASA's privileged list of American physicians who have become astronauts.

"When we get within those last few seconds [of the countdown], I'm sure the butterflies will follow," said Dr. Satcher, a surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. He has been on leave from Northwestern since he was accepted into the NASA program in 2004.

The key objectives of the 11-day mission, known as STS-129, are to deliver essential equipment to the space station and pick up a flight engineer for return to earth (link).

Dr. Satcher is scheduled to participate in two spacewalks. On the first walk, he will help install an antenna and perform maintenance on two of the robotic arms. During the second walk, he will install a gas tank.

Dr. Satcher also will serve as a proxy scientist for three experiments, including analysis of the effects of outer space on the human immune system and on bone formation in mice.

Back on this planet, those interested can follow the doctor's experience on Twitter (link). He also will tweet about medical issues for space exploration (link).

For now, Dr. Satcher, or Mission Specialist Satcher, as he is known at NASA, is in quarantine with his five crew members, awaiting liftoff.

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