Sep. 28, 2012 A technology designed for use by astronauts in the hazardous environment of space has found a lifesaving use in another dangerous occupation, but this time on Earth, or rather under it: coal mining.
Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Ariz., is providing the air revitalization system it matured under a NASA Space Act Agreement to Mine Shield LLC of Lancaster, Ky., for use in its underground miner refuge chambers. These air-tight metal chambers are used by miners as lifesaving havens when trapped underground, providing air, water and food until rescued.
"This is a great example of NASA investment fostering entrepreneurial activity in other markets," said Phil McAlister, director of NASA's Commercial Spaceflight Development in Washington, D.C. "The technology was developed as part of an effort to stimulate the private sector to develop commercial space transportation concepts and enable capabilities for future commercial support of human spaceflight with U.S. taxpayer dollars and Paragon's private investment. The company then found another market for it, leading to the development of a new commercial product and service, which will help save the lives of American miners."
In 2010, NASA began to invest in the commercial sector's capability to support transport of crew to and from low Earth orbit. During this initiative through a Space Act Agreement, NASA invested approximately $1.5 million of American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 economic stimulus funds in Paragon to mature its air purifying system.
Astronaut survival in space depends on a continuous source of breathable air. Paragon improved its design, manufactured and tested an engineering development unit that controls carbon dioxide, humidity, trace contaminants, airborne particulates, air circulation and cooling. Key elements of this technology could play an important role in the life support systems for future deep space exploration missions.
"Our air revitalization system recycles the air by using a series of scrubbers, filters and catalysts that purify the air over and over again," said Taber MacCallum, chief executive officer of Paragon. "The fact that this system, which was developed for human space exploration, has other important applications here on Earth shows how NASA and space exploration energizes American innovation."
Paragon was approached by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration to see if the NASA-developed technology could be used to improve the safety and effectiveness of mine refuge chambers.
For more information about crewed commercial space transportation, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/commercialcrew
For more information about Paragon Space Development Corp., visit: http://www.paragonsdc.com/
For more information about Mine Shield LLC, visit: http://www.mineshieldky.com/
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