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A miniature space robot might one day perform surgery on astronauts

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Shane Farritor / University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Astronauts tend to be healthy people, but even the healthiest among us can feel the wrath of an inflamed appendix. So, scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are trying to develop a tiny robot that can perform simple surgical procedures in zero gravity, reports New Scientist — for those moments when taking the time to go back to Earth might kill you.

The one-pound robot uses its tiny arms to cut and snip at will

According to New Scientist, the fist-sized robot can be controlled by a surgeon on Earth. To do its handiwork, it first has to make room for itself, so it injects gas into the body cavity of the immobilized patient. Then the capsule-like, one-pound robot uses its arms to cut and snip at will. The surgeon controlling it can observe the robot's actions thanks to sensors and a camera. The researchers think it could be used to do things like perforate a gastric ulcer or remove a piece of an astronaut's colon.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been tested on humans yet — pigs are its patient of choice — nor has it been used in zero gravity. But the researchers hope to remedy the latter over the course of the next few months by testing it in one of NASA's "vomit comets."