MERIGNAC, France -- Braving queasy stomachs, a team of French doctors took to the skies yesterday for the first operation on a human being in zero-gravity conditions, removing a cyst from the arm of a man as the aircraft soared and dived to create weightlessness.
The five-man medical team made history by slicing off the yellow growth that floated away from the patient, tied to a string. Doctors worked in intervals of 22 seconds during conditions of weightlessness. Coincidentally, it took 22 intervals to complete the surgery.
Doctors said the test was partly designed to rebut naysayers who claimed that surgery is unlikely -- if not impossible -- in space.
The relatively minor procedure was meant to give a preliminary idea of what surgery in space might be like, providing information about how blood flows in zero gravity or whether special equipment was needed. Doctors acknowledged the relatively minor excision was a far cry from more complicated surgery that could be needed on the International Space Station, but suggested it was an important first step.
The operation, more than three years in the making and part of a three-phase exploration of weightless surgery, paves the way toward one day performing surgery in space via a surgeon or a remotely controlled robot.
The flight lasted three hours, but the operation took just over eight minutes .