For the month of September, we interviewed Dr. David Kim, a PGY-4 Emergency Medicine resident. Dr. Kim has served as the President and Immediate Past President on our Board, and in the past year, has been working as a fellow overseas as he pursues his study of aerospace medicine. This exciting journey has allowed him to work at the European Space Agency and the UK Royal Air Force, and travel to places such as the Mars Desert Research Station! Read on to find out his experiences over the past year.
You have spent some time overseas at the European Space Agency in Germany and the Royal Air Force in the UK as an Aerospace Medicine MSc. Candidate. What inspired you towards this career path, and to apply to ESA?
I’ve always been interested in human space travel ever since I was a little kid. Space was always fascinating for me and I would spend hours reading books, watching shows, and learning as much as I could about it growing up. When I found out I could merge my career in emergency/acute medicine with space, it was something I knew I had to pursue.
Aerospace medicine is a small field that focuses on the health of pilots, aircrew, and passengers in the aviation industry. This includes doing pilot medical examinations and certifications as well as creating health related policy in the aviation industry such as a passenger’s fitness to fly if they have certain medical conditions. As well, it also involves the field of space medicine which looks at the care and protection of astronauts before, during, and after a mission to space.
What did the Aerospace Medicine fellowship training entail? And what exactly is Aerospace Medicine?
I was able to pursue a fellowship in Aerospace Medicine and got to spend some time with the Royal Air Force in the UK learning about military aviation medicine and commercial aviation medicine. Learning about how military pilots are selected, trained, and cared for was fascinating. Also learning about the various physiologic changes that happen during flight was eye opening. With increased altitude during flight, as atmospheric pressure decreases, the volume of gases inversely increases due to Boyle’s law. This has various implications to normal physiology that changes how our bodies function. You add in temperature changes that approximately decrease by 2 degrees every 1000 ft in the troposphere and high-G maneuvers that pilots can be exposed to among various other factors, everything about your physiology changes. Gas exchange, breathing, cardiac output, neurologic functional, and pretty much everything else is now different. (Ok, I will stop nerding out about aerospace physiology!) So, through this experience I obtained my Diploma in Aviation Medicine through the UK Faculty of Occupational Medicine which means I can pursue various career paths in this field.
I also got to spend some time in Germany at the European Space Agency with the Space Medicine Team to learn and research various areas in space medicine. They’re currently looking into planning for a deepspace flight mission back to the moon and to other celestial bodies like Mars. This means designing countermeasures to space radiation and adapting to the changes that our bodies undergo in microgravity. ESA also operates current active missions on the International Space Stations with NASA, so I got to participate in some of that work too!
What has your experience overall thus far been like? What have been some of the challenges or exciting events?
It was an amazing experience. NASA, ESA, CSA, and various other space agencies have committed to returning to the moon by 2024 and further deep space missions in the future. In fact, I’m confident humans will be on Mars during my lifetime and that’s pretty exciting. My specific research project was investigating deep space radiation and the biological implications it has on our bodies. Without the protection of the earth’s electromagnetic field and atmosphere, the deep space radiation is quite hazardous and currently prohibitive to mission design for a roundtrip voyage to Mars. Thus, we must design some sort of biological or engineering countermeasure to overcome this and I was able to contribute a bit to this work.
People often ask us why we invest so much into space travel. Well besides the obvious human nature of wanting to explore the unknown and pushing our boundaries, the applications of aerospace beyond its field is also limitless. What we learn from research and development from the aerospace industry has important implications on terrestrial health for example. The CT scan and MRI were adapted from technologies developed by NASA as well as countless other inventions such as prosthetic devices, pacemakers, and robotic surgery to name a few. We can also learn a lot about the health of our planet and gather data about how our climate is changing thanks to various technologies and satellites employed by the aerospace sector!
I even got to participate as an analogue astronaut this year at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) as the Crew Health Officer. MDRS is a research facility located in Utah meant to simulate a Mars habitat and a Martian environment to research how we might live on Mars one day. So that was pretty cool!
Lastly: what do you miss most about Canada after being away for so long?
I really missed my family! And you can’t beat a nice home cooked meal. And since I’m from the island, there is no place like home. The natural beauty of Canada and BC is truly amazing. I can’t wait to hit the mountain slopes again and hit some nice drives right down the middle of the fairway on the golf courses back at home!