A miniature pump designed to help your heart beat and a device that insures the safety of the International Space Station and its crew have received NASA's commercial and government invention of the year awards.
Receiving NASA's Commercial Invention of the Year is a miniature ventricular-assist device (VAD). Initially called the NASA/DeBakey heart pump, it is based in part on technology used in Space Shuttle fuel pumps. It is intended as a long-term "bridge" to a heart transplant, or as a more permanent device to help patients toward recovery and a more normal life.
The concept for the pump began with talks between Dr. Michael DeBakey of Houston's Baylor College of Medicine and one of his heart transplant patients, NASA engineer David Saucier. Saucier, who worked at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, knew first-hand the urgency heart-failure patients feel waiting for a donor heart. He also knew Space Shuttle technology.
Six months after his 1984 heart transplant, Saucier was back at work and arranged for fellow NASA engineers James Akkerman, Bernard Rosenbaum, Gregory Aber and Richard Bozeman to meet with Dr. DeBakey, Dr. George Noon and other Baylor staff. The result was a remarkable battery-operated pump - approximately 3 inches long, 1 inch in diameter and weighing less than four ounces - that seems to be an answer to the decades-long quest to develop an implantable VAD.
NASA, in keeping with its mission of transferring space-based technology to the private sector, granted exclusive rights to MicroMed Technology Inc., Houston, in 1996 after intense competition. In European trials, the MicroMed/DeBakey VAD was implanted in 115 persons without any incidence of device failure. U.S. trials will involve 178 implants of which 21 have already been successfully performed.
The NASA Government Invention of the Year goes to a team from the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The team invented a hollow cathode assembly that is the primary component of the International Space Station's plasma contactor system. This mission-critical system protects the station and its crew from the dangers associated with electrical charges.
As the space station floats through space in low-Earth orbit, the surface of the structure builds up a static high-voltage charge. The plasma contactor system safely grounds the station from this high voltage protecting it from arcing, which could severely damage its surface. This device is unique in that it reduces the static charge in a self-regulating manner to levels safe enough for astronaut spacewalks.
The team of Michael Patterson, Timothy Verhey and George Soulas developed the technology from a laboratory device to flight qualified hardware, and manufactured the space flight hardware for the orbiting research platform. The team's efforts also resulted in increasing hollow cathodes lifetimes from 500 hours to 28,000 hours, enabling their use on ion thrusters, a key technology used for NASA spacecraft missions such as Deep Space 1.
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