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For Release: March 26, 2002

Katherine K. Martin
Media Relations Office

Lori J. Rachul
Media Relations Office

Government and Commerical Inventions of the Year Selected

A device that insures the safety of the International Space Station and its crew and a miniature pump designed to help your heart have received NASA's government and commercial invention of the year awards.

The NASA Government Invention of the Year goes to researchers from the agency's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland. They 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 ISS 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 that 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.

Michael Patterson, Timothy Verhey and George Soulas developed the technology from a laboratory device to flight-qualified hardware at Glenn, and then manufactured the spaceflight hardware for the orbiting research platform. Their efforts increased hollow cathodes lifetimes with inert gases from 500 to 28,000 hours, which enables their use on ion thrusters, a key propulsion technology for NASA spacecraft missions such as Deep Space 1.

Receiving NASA's Commercial Invention of the Year is a miniaturized 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 to 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, 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 College of Medicine 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 and after intense competition, granted exclusive rights to MicroMed Technology Inc., Houston, in 1996. 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.

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Page updated by Angela L. Spruce (Indyne, Inc.), Community and Media Relations Office

Responsible official: David M. DeFelice, Community and Media Relations Office


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