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

Receiving NASA’s Commercial Invention of the Year is a
miniature 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 and 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, who 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

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
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, granted exclusive rights to
MicroMed Technology Inc., Houston, in 1996 after intense
competition. 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.

The NASA Government Invention of the Year goes to a team from
the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. 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 space station 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,
which 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

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