Lynette Madison
Johnson Space Center, Houston

RELEASE : J10-007
Helping the Smallest of Mankind Johnson Space Center Engineers Collaborate on Neonatal Transport Project
HOUSTON— Weighing not much more than a pound and often less, neonatal infants are getting a high-tech assist from NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s engineers.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital recently signed a Space Act Agreement to further solidify the engineering research and development project on the effects of vibrations on neonatal infants in transport. This collaborative effort began nearly three years ago through the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program.

“Currently there are no medical or industry standards to tell us how much vibration is acceptable for fragile critically ill neonates to withstand,” said Jack A. Klasen of Texas Children’s Hospital. “What leaps out at you when you are working with Johnson Space Center engineers is the incredible source of knowledge they have. It is impressive.”

Sick premature babies are often transported to tertiary care centers when they require a level of care that exceeds that which is able to be delivered at their birth hospital. While such transports are necessary, the procedures involved in transport of such fragile infants inevitably disturb the infant’s systems, which may result in adverse short and long-term outcomes, explains Klasen.

Prior to their work with NASA’s vibration lab at JSC, very little study had been conducted on the role of vibration in neonatal transport. The initial request from Texas Children’s Hospital through SATOP was for engineering assistance, to determine where to position sensors to measure vibrations during transport. This included multiple forms of ground and air transport, such as ambulance, Life Flight helicopter and jets. Working to move this research forward in addition to Klasen are David Walding, is one of the hospital’s biomedical engineers, and RN Neonatal Nurse, Tony Bentley, who are both passionate about improving transport conditions for these infants.

The work with JSC’s engineers now includes developing a test design for vibration, performing the testing at space center and collaborating with JSC experts on data analysis.

“In business, partnership value is often measured in dollars and cents. At NASA our partnerships often result in improvements to the quality of life. In this case, improving the chances for sustaining the very smallest of lives,” said David Leestma, director of JSC’s Advanced Planning Office.

Kathryn Turner, a NASA project manager with a background in biomedical engineering, was working on developing a method of using a wireless network of instruments to monitor vibration onboard the International Space Station when Texas Children's Hospital approached the agency asking for help. She and a JSC engineering team adjusted the technology for use on carts used to transport infants, and from there a relationship developed that has since grown to include having the vibration laboratory at Johnson study the carts themselves.

“It's impossible to see those children and not want to move heaven and earth to serve them. We're fortunate to have the skill set they need” said Turner.

The JSC team is led by Peter Fantasia, and, in addition to Turner, includes, Scott West, Mike Grygier and Costas Christofi. West described that it is a collaborative effort including many others in the branch as their individual areas of expertise are needed. He added, “The work is of course interesting as most all engineering problems are interesting and challenging – but this one is special because we get to take our branch’s combined knowledge of vibration, modeling and isolation methods that we normally apply to spacecraft, launch vehicles, and avionics, and try to help the most helpless among us.”

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, in partnership with the Johnson Space Center, has hosted the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) since November 1998. “The program has had tremendous success operating within the Houston Metropolitan Area and is expecting even greater results out of its statewide expansion. The SATOP program under BAHEP has helped more than 600 Texas businesses with free engineering assistance since its inception,” says Nick Gardner, SATOP program manager.

Space Act Agreements and partnership efforts at Johnson Space Center are led by the Advanced Planning Office. For more information about the Advanced Planning Office at Johnson Space Center visit:


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