The First STAR (Spatial Team of Aeromedicine Romania)

Guest blog post by Dr. Raluca Papacocea, MD, PhD
Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy
Bucharest, Romania

As medical students living during these challenging times of a global health crisis, we are aware of the responsibility that we bare as the future generation of healers. We understand the need for a new era in medicine and strive to bring progress, innovation, and futuristic solutions. With time, space, and resource limitations, we must adapt to solve the future problems of society. We must think outside the box or, in this case, outside the limits of our atmosphere and into space.

Driven to change the surrounding world and empower through role models like our team leader, we took an ambitious step to bring Space Medicine to Romania for the first time. We are STAR (Spatial Team of Aeromedicine Romania), a small group of students from the Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy (CDUMP) from Bucharest. Our mission is to bring new healing methods, prevention ideas, and support strategies for astronauts, researchers from the International Space Station (ISS), and even space tourists.

With the support of our partners, the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA) and the Innovation and eHealth Centre (CIeH), we are aiming higher by participating in the ExoLab-9 astrobotany mission to the ISS. With a ground unit ExoLab in our lab, our research students can observe the differences in growth for plants on Earth and on the ISS. Throughout this experiment, students monitored environmental conditions and compared data for both flight and ground experiments.

With active participation in this authentic research, students are recognizing how microgravity affects plant growth and the symbiotic rhizobia bacteria. We were able to join this ambitious, global initiative thanks to helping from Prof. Javier Montiel, and this introduction to space flight research is only the beginning of our endeavors.

We recently extended our space activities by joining space innovation contests, such as the NASA Space Apps Challenge 2021. Students presented ideas about plant growth environments in space and thus contributed to concepts for growing vegetables and fruits beyond terrestrial Earth. Our micro-greenhouse idea brought a multidisciplinary perspective to the project, consequently qualifying in the global phase of the contest.

We want to continue spreading knowledge and enthusiasm among a network of space enthusiasts embracing challenges and implementing fresh initiatives for a better life here on Earth. Based on this idea, we organized the first Space Medicine course in Romania, which is available for all CDUMP students and will be taught by Prof. Thais Russomano, a space expert with over 30 years of experience. We also inspired curiosity among colleagues by organizing webinars to share our vision and encourage young future physicians to bring a new approach to healthcare.

Our mission doesn’t end here. If there is one thing that we have in common, beyond our mutual passion, that thing is hope and the ambition to dream big. We are empowered to transform every vision to reality, every intangible concept to physical truth, every touch of doubt to courage, and every issue to a new challenge.

We strive to bring revolutionary ideas to healthcare with a generation that brings a new approach to problem management. We won’t limit ourselves to hopes, as we want to apply our ideas and to find the path to a better life.

Now is the time for a change, and we are the ones to make it happen by looking forward and up to space. We are ambitious, creative, and beyond grateful for the people who believe in us unconditionally. We are the generation that will be different. We are STAR.

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