The idea that someone can go into space with a medical device like a pacemaker is no longer as unthinkable as it used to be. Perhaps more surprising is that the idea was the brainchild of a 17-year-old’s science project. Shelbi Kingsporn of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, was curious about the durability of pacemakers, after a friend of hers needed one and seeing the challenges that she faced with it.
Shelbi had heard about Cubes in Space, a private education program that, in partnership with NASA, encourages educators around the world to engage students in science and space exploration. She wanted to know if a pacemaker could survive the effects of radiation and low temperatures in space, so submitted a proposal. Her project was one of only 80 selected to fly on a NASA sounding rocket last month. The pacemaker set out to space on June 22, 2017 and experienced more than 20 times the force of gravity, extreme vibration, temperatures reaching 140ºF, radiation, and finally, a touch down in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I had to get out of my comfort zone and ordinary thinking. I had to be unique and the teachers really encouraged me,” Shelbi said. Because of size and weight limitations, the project had to fit, with padding, within a four centimeter cube, so naturally, Shelbi chose to test the world’s smallest pacemaker, Micra. Micra is 93 percent smaller than conventional pacemakers and about the size of a large vitamin, was small enough to fit inside the cube.
“Anything can cause interference to your pacemaker,” Shelby added. “I wanted to find out how much damage would be done to this pacemaker in space.” According to the business journal, Mass Device, The Micra leadless pacemaker worked in space as expected on earth. “This test doesn’t mean that anyone with a pacemaker can go into space,” the NASA program manager said in a statement. “But the idea that someone with a medical device might someday be able to travel into space isn’t as far-fetched today as it was yesterday.”