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Provision of critical care and resuscitation was not practical during early missions into space. Given likely advancements in commercial spaceflight and increased human presence in low Earth orbit (LEO) in the coming decades, development of these capabilities should be considered as the likelihood of emergent medical evacuation increases.
PubMed, Web of Science, Google Scholar, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Technical Server, and Defense Technical Information Center were searched from inception to December 2018. Articles specifically addressing critical care and resuscitation during emergency medical evacuation from LEO were selected. Evidence was graded using Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine guidelines.
The search resulted in 109 articles included in the review with a total of 2,177 subjects. There were two Level I systematic reviews, 33 Level II prospective studies with 647 subjects, seven Level III retrospective studies with 1,455 subjects, and two Level IV case series with four subjects. There were two Level V case reports and 63 pertinent review articles.
The development of a medical evacuation capability is an important consideration for future missions. This review revealed potential hurdles in the design of a dedicated LEO evacuation spacecraft. The ability to provide critical care and resuscitation during transport is likely to be limited by mass, volume, cost, and re-entry forces. Stabilization and treatment of the patient should be performed prior to departure, if possible, and emphasis should be on a rapid and safe return to Earth for definitive care.
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