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Johnson Space Center Continues To Be A Winner In Technology
jsc2013e010610 -- Mike Coats and Ellen Ochoa

(From left) Former JSC Director Mike Coats was recognized by the FLC as the 2012 Laboratory Director of the Year. JSC’s new director, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, will continue Coats’ legacy with the advent of JSC 2.0. Credit: NASA

Following closely on the heels of awards given to Johnson Space Center on behalf of the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Mid-Continent Region for Notable Technology Development and Outstanding Laboratory, former JSC Director Mike Coats was recognized by the FLC as the 2012 Laboratory Director of the Year. This recognition reflects JSC’s outstanding leadership and numerous technological achievements.

Some of the notable accomplishments that led to our award-winning efforts under Coats included:
  • The aid of JSC’s medical team in the rescue efforts of the Chilean miners
  • Creation of BayTech and Houston Technology Center (HTC) campus on-site at JSC to facilitate technical accomplishments and growth in the Houston-Bay Area region
  • Recognition of the JSC solar-powered refrigerator and our commercialization partner, SunDanzer Refrigeration, Inc., who worked through the World Health Organization to provide a battery-free solar refrigeration system that enables the storage of vaccines in remote areas without electricity
  • The partnership with JSC and GM to develop a robotic glove to alleviate repetitive stress injuries
  • Allowing the petroleum industry use of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory to provide water safety and survival training for offshore oil and gas workers
  • The partnership with Meridian Health Systems to use NASA-patented microwave and millimeter wave technology to treat the hardening of heart arteries
These technologies, while impressive in their own right, are only the beginning as JSC explores new commercialization opportunities in the future.


The new Human Grasp Assist device, or Robo-Glove, was built through the continuing partnership between NASA and General Motors. It uses Robonaut 2 technology to increase the strength of a human’s grasp. Credit: NASA

“We’re putting more emphasis on getting our technologies out there,” said Jack James, lead, JSC’s Technology Transfer Office within the Strategic Opportunities and Partnership Development Office. “We’re strengthening our partnerships with the Houston Technology Center and BayTech, and there’s a few other ones we’re looking to pursue.”

When functioning within the constraints of limited budgets, partnerships accelerate innovation, especially in scenarios where NASA has developed the idea and a business nurtures the concept into a finished product.

One example of this is with the NASA’s solar-powered refrigerator.

“This outside company took the solar-powered refrigerator and applied it for preserving vaccines in underprivileged, underdeveloped countries where there isn’t any power infrastructure,” James said.

As James noted, there are more advances on the horizon for JSC Technology Transfer and local startup companies.

“I’m really excited about JSC’s work in robotics,” James said. “As we have seen, JSC’s Robotics team has made some amazing achievements, such as Robonaut 2, the robotic glove and the X1 Exoskeleton, all of which have a great potential for relevance to industry and individuals here on Earth. This is one of many areas where JSC’s investments support the economy.”

JSC’s designation as a federally recognized research and development laboratory gives the center access to an emerging technology fund that used to be only available to universities. Now, JSC is better positioned to advance relationships with BayTech, HTC and other potential clients, which helps bolster the local economy and keep valuable engineering talent in our backyard.

Solar-powered refrigerator

Solar-powered refrigerators like this one may soon reduce the cost and increase the availability of vaccines to people in remote regions. Image Credit: NASA.

Our success, as well as this most recent award for JSC’s former director, is part of Coats’ legacy—one that JSC Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa seeks to continue with the integration of JSC 2.0. This newest version of JSC answers the fundamental question: If we were starting JSC today, how would we build a space center to reach our vision of leading a global enterprise in human space exploration that is sustainable, affordable and benefits humankind? Under Ochoa’s leadership, JSC will combine efforts in human exploration, science and space technology to meet the president’s challenge to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the 2030s—a plan that requires JSC’s unique capabilities, innovations, and ultimately, an evolution.

Catherine Ragin Williams
NASA's Johnson Space Center