PARIS, July 24 (UPI) -- A European astronaut has been learning medical skills he hopes he never has to use, but which could be vital on the International Space Station, officials said.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst has been boosting his medical skills in a busy hospital setting, a release from ESA's Paris headquarters reported Wednesday.
Astronauts spending as much as six months on the ISS need to be able to handle any emergency, since hundreds of miles and a difficult journey are between them and the nearest hospital, the ESA said.
At least two Crew Medical Officers, trained in basic medical procedures from stitching wounds to filling teeth, are assigned to each mission, it said.
Gerst, set to fly to the station in 2014 and already trained to be a Crew Medical Officer, has been at a hospital in Germany to observe some real-life medical cases and practice some highly realistic simulations with a mannequin used to train hospital anesthetists that is so lifelike it blinks, breathes and responds to injections.
"This course gives real-life context to the astronaut's medical training and builds their confidence and experience in dealing with medical problems," ESA flight surgeon Ben Douglas said.
Gerst spent three days at the hospital in operating theaters, the emergency department and the intensive care unit.
"The course was a very useful experience," he said. "Seeing typical injuries on real patients gave me a much more realistic view of what we might have to deal with in space."