Devices & Diagnostics

Why NASA needs low-cost, simple medical devices

Astronauts can encounter lots of potential health risks during long space flights. And those risks are exacerbated by a lack of access to physicians, limited medical supplies and a small amount of storage on spacecrafts. Add to that high costs – it takes $10,000 to launch one pound of anything to low-earth orbit – and […]

Astronauts can encounter lots of potential health risks during long space flights.

And those risks are exacerbated by a lack of access to physicians, limited medical supplies and a small amount of storage on spacecrafts.

Add to that high costs – it takes $10,000 to launch one pound of anything to low-earth orbit – and you’ve got a big need from NASA for low-cost, simple medical devices, said DeVon Griffin, a project manager at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

“That’s a big driver when it costs so much to launch into low-earth orbit, so we can’t send much up there,” Griffin said. Griffin was speaking at a national conference on Value-driven Engineering in Akron, Ohio, sponsored by the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron.

Griffin gave a few examples of low-cost devices developed by NASA engineers and outside collaborators.

For example, NASA Glenn researchers developed a suitcase-sized device to filter out microscopic contaminants from drinking water to produce a fluid sterile enough for IVs in case they are needed in a medical emergency in space.

The device helps NASA overcome several limitations associated with IV medication coupled with space flight – primarily the limited shelf life of the medications and the substantial volume of IV bags.

An astronaut uses a hand pump to to squeeze water through a series of filters, and then into an IV bag.

“On board or in-situ production of IV fluids needed for medical treatments, could greatly reduce these costs and storage limitations, and would give NASA much more flexibility in how it can use the water it already has on the spacecraft,” a NASA official said in 2010 prior to the device’s in-flight testing, space.com reported.

[Photo from flickr user NASAblueshift]