The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) celebrates the success of an innovative medical imaging technology demonstration aboard the International Space Station (ISS). During space exploration missions, the medical kit must feature tools with reduced mass and enhanced and self-reliant usability by the crew. Astronauts tested use of the Butterfly iQ – a handheld single-probe ultrasound system that connects to a mobile device – without any ground support. The device is seen by many as a quintessential tool to augment medical care in future space missions. 

The Butterfly iQ is the world’s first handheld, single-probe scanner with semiconductor ultrasound transducer technology (Ultrasound-on-ChipTM) developed by Butterfly Network, Inc. The product’s first user demonstration in space was conducted by NASA Johnson Space Center’s Space and Clinical Operations Division through its Strategic Technology Advancement Process (STAP) with support from TRISH and Butterfly Network.

An imaging capability would be an obvious enhancement for crew health care during future flights, such as NASA’s Artemis missions. Advanced tools, however, often exceed the modest mass, volume, and power allocations of the constrained spacecraft. This two-phase demonstration sought to establish whether Butterfly iQ’s probe technology and intuitive, smartphone-based application comprise an effective model for meeting the challenge.

“The constraints of the space environment push us all to rethink how to monitor human health in space and in resource-limited places on Earth,” said TRISH Executive Director Dorit Donoviel, Ph.D. “Devices like the Butterfly iQ are making the future of healthcare a reality, and we are thrilled to see it pass the rigorous testing necessary to possibly become part of future NASA flight operations.” 

Once the pocket-size device is connected to a tablet or smartphone, user selects one of 21 presets for desired body system, (i.e., lung or eye), and begin scanning immediately. Operator assistance and automation tools reduce the need for extensive user training. Aboard the ISS, astronauts provided positive feedback after collecting sample cardiovascular, lung, musculoskeletal, and urinary system image sets, as well as automated calculations.  

“We embrace TRISH’s vision that emphasizes technological currency and operational agility of space health systems of the future,” said Lauren Merkle, KBR Transition to Operations Project Manager. “Rapid evaluation of newest, smartest medical technologies in the ISS laboratory maximizes the potential benefits and extends them farther into the future.” 

This was the first mission to take Butterfly iQ to space, with participation of NASA, TRISH, KBR, and Butterfly Network. The Butterfly iQ+ was flown on Sept. 15 aboard SpaceX’s Inspiration4, the first all-civilian flight to orbit Earth. On that mission, participants conducted a number of successful foundational experiments using the Butterfly iQ. 

TRISH is a consortium led by Baylor College of Medicine with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The institute invests research dollars in cutting-edge terrestrial healthcare technologies that can protect astronaut health and performance. Learn more about TRISH.