“SpaceX, Dragon, we’re go for launch, let’s light this candle,” said Doug Harley just before liftoff. He and Bob Behnken are the two NASA astronauts that were launched into orbit on the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule system provided by SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturing and space transportation company founded by serial entrepreneur – Elon Musk in 2002.

This is the first crew outing launched from American soil since NASA shuttles retired in 2011. This is also the first time in history that NASA astronauts are being carried on a commercially built and operated spacecraft into orbit and make their way to the International Space Station (ISS). At the moment, it’s still too early to determine whether this will be yet another “Golden Age of Space”.

Nevertheless, “let’s light this candle” echoes Alan Shepard, the astronaut who wanted to be the first American in space half a century ago and was not discouraged by the persistent delays he had to face. The SpaceX and NASA launch was aborted 16 minutes before schedule on 27 May due to poor weather, but this hasn’t put a stop to the plan. In fact, human’s interests in the outer space has never been discontinued since the day one of our kind set his foot on the moon. So, is there anything the AIMed community can learn from the launch?

Adversity is the best teacher

Dr. Ameet Bakhai, a renowned Cardiologist and researcher from the UK said in a recent AIMed Talks, “adversity is the best teacher”. Although Dr. Bakhai was referring to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a partnership between the privately-owned SpaceX and federal government funded NASA could not have taken place if not for a tragedy happened 17 years ago.

On 1 February 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it tried to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board. A year later, President George W Bush announced the retirement of space shuttle after the building of ISS and the country will build new vehicle which can safely return astronauts to the Moon. When ISS was completed in 2005, the former NASA Administrator Michael Douglas Griffin announced new commercial opportunities for astronauts and cargo delivery, so funding can be saved for new missions to the Moon.

That was when Elon Musk took the opportunity and eventually won the NASA contract along with another aerospace company – Orbital Sciences in 2006. Likewise, the rapid spread of the coronavirus had took the medical community by surprise. Despite so, it had hastened the adoption of technology; expedited new tools, debunked medical myths and most importantly, it unleashed a willingness to collaborate across different entities in a way that has never witnessed before.

Something old and something new

The above would not have taken place under normal circumstance, since medicine and healthcare are generally rigid and incorporate many factors that do not permit changes easily. Concerns preventing artificial intelligence (AI) deployment like data privacy, biases and generalizability seemed to be lifted overnight because everyone is now forced to make a change; to overcome a common challenge.

Besides, Dr. Anthony Chang, AIMed Founder; Pediatric Cardiologist and Chief Intelligence and Innovation Officer at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) pointed out that SpaceX and NASA are an assimilation of a new and agile paradigm and an established old paradigm. Similarly, there is a need to pair agile AI with established research in medicine. This is especially so at this point in time when there are hundreds of scientific papers on COVID-19 are being published on a daily basis.

“There are more than 20,000 papers on COVID-19 but we are dying of thirst in an ocean of information. We need AI to help us have actionable insights,” Dr. Chang says. Traditional ways of going through research literature are not efficient in this case. As such, a few weeks ago, Amalie Trewartha and John Dagdelen, Post-Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Student Researcher and their colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, built COVIDScholar.

The AI-driven search engine enables researchers to pick up minute information including similar drugs used and research methodologies, to recommend related research to scientist. Trewartha and Dagdelen thought as researchers spent 23% of their time searching and reading past journal articles, this tool will save up some of their time to focus on data analyses and making new discoveries.

Innovation does not have to be complicated

What is remarkable about the SpaceX and NASA launch is not only it’s the first time a privately owned rocket is sending human being to space, but it’s also the first spaceship to be maneuvered by touchscreen controls.

Harley and Behnken performed a short test ride a day before the launch on 31 May. SpaceX released footage of this test during its live stream. From there, one may notice an absent of complicated buttons and switches. Instead, they were replaced by three touchscreens panels. Some believe the display technology is similar to the ones we have on our smartphones, where we scroll, swipe, check and send on various platforms every day.

Certainly, there are more to learn from this launch. After all, it will only be considered complete after Harley and Behnken achieved their tasks at ISS and safely comes back to Earth. Like the way, the 1000 US senior executive across seven industries in the 2019 emerging tech executive report, whilst it may be the “Golden Age” of AI now, there are still many awaiting for us to uncover.


Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.