Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Gabrielle Birchak-Birkman

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

(Phone: 818/393-4359)

RELEASE: 00-147

You can take the rocket scientists into retirement, but you
can’t turn off the inventive skills retired NASA professionals
carry with them. Retired engineers and scientists who helped make
history at the dawn of the Space Age are now applying their skills
to the world of medicine.

These enterprising space veterans from NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, are now helping doctors and
patients with expertise forged in the world of space technology.

“We may look like seniors, but our professional skills are still
in high gear and our creativity never dies,” said Herman Bank,
space engineering veteran and founder and director of Volunteer
Professionals for Medical Advancement. He and his brainy 65- to
85-year-old retired NASA colleagues, Bank said, “are just too
young to retire.”

By working with Bank’s volunteer group these JPL retirees donate
some of their time to work closely with doctors and other medical
professionals to brainstorm, research and develop new medical
technologies. The organization’s purpose is to provide hospitals
with free services that such facilities could otherwise not
afford. The hospitals, in turn, find that with the retired space
professionals, they get top-notch brainpower and reliable
assistance. The accomplishments of this retiree organization have
brought its members state and national honors.

The group has been responsible for a number of medical
advancements, including:

  • Preliminary design of an automated oxygen-enrichment system for
    premature babies.
    Working with Los Angeles County & USC Medical Center, retired
    volunteers and doctors are working to remove the inaccuracies of
    manually controlled oxygen systems, which can affect the infants’
    eyesight, brain and lung development.

  • Solving a blood-clot problem found with a stent that could
    cause heart attacks.
    Retired professional volunteers introduced a special
    electropolishing process to provide a super-smooth stent surface.
    The electropolishing process, developed in the aerospace industry,
    is not well known by doctors. The resulting electropolished stent
    practically eliminated further blood-clot formation with the

  • Creation of an advanced-database, private computer network for
    Working with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, retired
    professionals are helping pediatricians nationwide to correspond
    about children’s illnesses using JPL’s method of data management.
    This database will provide a depository for historical data of
    diagnoses, research, treatments and results. Doctors estimate that
    extended medical use of the computer database systems could reduce
    health care costs by 20 to 30 percent.

With each project, these retirees find the rewards are numerous.
“Results of the project clearly show that volunteers have made
major contributions to medical advancement,” said Bank. “Doctors
and hospital staff are very appreciative of this volunteer
professional assistance, which they can seldom find or afford.” He
went on to note, “Retired professionals find interest and
satisfaction in challenges which do not interfere with retirement

Bank said, that as a young man, he always wanted to go into the
field of medicine. Unable to afford medical school at the time, he
decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and found
himself at JPL. Bank proves it’s never too late to pursue one’s
aspirations. “I decided after doing 20 years of space I wanted to
do something here on Earth to advance medicine,” added Bank.

Embarking on their tenth year as an organization, these retirees
are looking forward to future challenges in medicine, which
includes encouraging other retired engineers and scientists to
look for volunteer consulting opportunities. “The expansion of
this activity nationally should help medical advancement
considerably without cost, while using a skilled manpower
resource,” said Bank.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in

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