NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe today honored the man
known as the father of modern cardiovascular surgery for his
work on an innovative heart pump based on technology found in
the engines that power space shuttles into orbit.

Administrator O’Keefe presented Dr. Michael DeBakey with the
agency’s Commercial Invention of the Year award during a
ceremony at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Dr. DeBakey, who
is Chancellor Emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine in
Houston, was honored for his pioneering work on a miniature
heart pump.

The small ventricular-assist device, known as the VAD, is
based in part on fuel pumps used in space shuttle main
engines and is designed to be a bridge for heart patients who
often are forced to wait months, if not years, for a donor
organ. The VAD may also be used as a permanent way to help
strengthen the beat of a weakened heart.

“Dr. DeBakey is a renowned doctor who has changed the face of
medical science. For more than four decades, he’s been a
distinguished surgeon and a dedicated teacher,” said
Administrator O’Keefe. “His scientific accomplishments and
his ability to develop pioneering new technologies to better
life on Earth are considerable. His warmth, compassion and
dedication symbolize the finest ideals of his medical

The concept for the pump began with talks between Dr. DeBakey
and one of his heart transplant patients David Saucier, a
NASA engineer. Saucier, who worked at NASA’s Johnson Space
Center in Houston, knew first-hand the urgency heart-failure
patients feel while 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 and a team at Baylor. The
result was a remarkable battery-operated pump —
approximately three inches long, one inch in diameter and
weighing less than four ounces — that may be a lifesaving
answer to the decades-long quest to develop an implantable
heart-assist device.

After an intense competition in 1996, NASA granted exclusive
development rights to MicroMed Technology Inc., Houston. In
European trials, the MicroMed/DeBakey VAD was implanted in
115 patients with no incidence of device failure. In the
United States, more than 20 patients have successfully
received the device. Trials here will involve nearly 180

Also during today’s event, Administrator O’Keefe presented
the Government Invention of the Year award to a team from the
NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The group of
talented engineers was honored for developing technology that
helps ensure the safety of astronauts aboard the
International Space Station.

The team 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 research platform moves 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, which could severely damage its surface.

The device is unique in that it reduces the static charge in
a self-regulating manner and allows astronauts to safely
conduct spacewalks on and around the structure of the
International Space Station.

The team of Michael Patterson, Timothy Verhey and George
Soulas developed the technology from a laboratory device used
to qualify hardware for flight, and adapted the technology
for the space station. The team’s efforts also resulted in
increasing the lifetimes of hollow cathodes from 500 hours to
28,000 hours, enabling use of the cathodes on ion thrusters,
a key technology used for NASA spacecraft missions such as
Deep Space 1.

“Building on an extraordinary record of accomplishment, the
people of NASA continue to develop revolutionary technologies
needed to understand and protect our home planet and explore
the universe,” added Administrator O’Keefe. “NASA continues
to pioneer the future and I’m deeply proud of the outstanding
teamwork and sheer brilliance demonstrated by our people on a
daily basis.”

Additional information about how NASA technology impacts
everyday life on Earth is available on the Internet at: