October 5, 2022

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Travelling Tomorrow

DMC Children’s Hospital nurse on NASA’s simulated mission to Mars

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Is there life on Mars?

Jennifer Milczarski, a certified registered nurse anesthetist at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan, won’t find out in person but she will aid in NASA’s mission to get to the Red Planet and its moon Phobos.

Milczarski, 33, is a crew member for NASA’s simulated mission to Mars in the Human Exploration Research Analog at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Along with three other members — a NASA aerospace and robotics engineer, a NASA aerospace engineer and a private industry aerospace systems engineer — Milczarski will enter the 360-square-foot simulated habitat on Friday and perform experiments within the habitat for the following 45 days.

NASA researchers will study how the crew members adjust to the “isolation, confinement, and remote conditions on Earth before NASA sends astronauts on deep-space missions.”

Milczarski is the only non-aerospace professional aboard the mission, but she has extensive education and experience in human physiology. Besides her work at Children’s Hospital in Detroit, she operates a health care company that uses the anesthetic drug Ketamine to treat depression.

Crain’s interviewed Milczarski ahead of her mission this week about joining the mission, her interest in space travel and expectations of being crammed in a tight space with few amenities.

  • How does a nurse anesthetist get involved in a NASA mission?

I’ve been looking into NASA’s aerospace medicine programs for quite some time, searching their website for any mid-level provider positions I may qualify for, but those are mostly for doctors and regular nurses. But I was in Arizona last summer and met a friend of a friend that had a similar interest in aerospace that told me about the HERA program. So I quickly pulled it up on my phone, read about it and thought it was up my alley. So, I decided right then and there I would apply. Admittedly, I thought I was a long shot. I waited for several months before I even got a confirmation email. But I finally heard back. Then it was a whole process of different stages of interviews and screenings. I made it through the initial screening, then had to take a bunch of physical tests and psychological exams all over the country. I did those in Michigan, Texas, Florida and Montana. But I made the cut.

  • So you’ve always been interested in space travel?

It started in childhood. Probably eighth grade when I went to a technology camp at Wayne State University. I spent my entire summer there and was really intrigued with science, engineering and aerospace. We learned how to build rockets. My rocket landed the safest and with the furthest distance. It did not go the highest. I think I came in second or third for height. I thought it was so awesome. So when I got back I went to different science museums and learned as much about space travel as I could. But eventually, like so many, it became an unrealistic goal in life. So nursing came to the forefront. It seemed a way more attainable career. So I went down that route. I really like being a nurse anesthetist but I never grew out of my passion to become an astronaut. I’m driven by challenges. I went to nursing school and then needed more of a challenge. Got a degree in anesthesia and needed more of a challenge. Began working in pediatrics and transplants and needed more of a challenge. So I started doing anesthesia in pediatrics, which many will tell you is insane. Peds is awesome, but it’s very stressful. I then opened a Ketamine-infusion clinic based here in Michigan for treating depression, mental health and chronic pain. But then Elon (Musk) started making reusable rockets and sending people into outer orbit. So I thought maybe I should look again at my original career plan. I resorted back to my ultimate goal which would be an astronaut where I would be going to be space. It still seems pretty far-fetched considering the application pool, but now it’s more of a potential than it ever was.

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