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Johnson Space Center Contributes to the Fight Against COVID-19


Shaneequa Vereen |
June 9, 2020

NASA’s Johnson Space Center has joined the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) with efforts underway in Houston to supplement the national response.

A national shortage of N95 masks for health care workers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has providers across the nation improvising to re-use masks on the frontlines to conserve the limited supply.

“I had a very deep and personal connection to the evaluation (of N95 masks), because my wife is a medical professional… on the frontlines, with only one mask allocated for her to use and re-use daily,” said NASA engineer and project lead Jeremy Jacobs. “She has been very concerned about cross contamination between patient-to-patient and to our family.”

In answer to this crisis, Johnson material engineers and space medicine professionals, in conjunction with the Harris County Public Health (HCPH) Department, developed and tested a sterilization protocol to aid in the crisis.

In conjunction with the Harris County (Texas) Public Health Department, materials engineers and space medicine professionals at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston have developed and tested a sterilization protocol to combat a national shortage of N95 masks for health care workers on the frontlines as they fight against coronavirus. The team includes Daniel Kim, chemist, Joseph Settles, soft-goods laboratory technician, and Richard Watson, occupational health, all of NASA Johnson; Jerry Miller, chief technologist for Harris County Public Health; and Jeremy Jacobs and Leslie Schaschl, materials engineers, Michael Kocurek, materials laboratory technician, and Sean Carter, strategic partnerships.

“The project was incredibly successful in an incredibly short amount of time,” Jacobs said. “The results have been formally communicated all the way up to FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency)], the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], the U.S. Surgeon General, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.”

HCPH asked NASA to join the fight because “being a former [NASA] family member, I knew exactly what I would get, which is why I asked,” said Gerald Miller, HCPH project lead and former NASA extravehicular activity flight controller. “Having worked many tiger teams in mission control during my years there, I had every confidence in the dedication of NASA personnel to get the answers.”

In addition to the work being done in Houston, the agency’s workforce nationwide has developed innovations and worked with various private- and public-sector partners to respond quickly to the unfolding health crisis. 

“NASA has implemented important measures to do our part to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect our communities,” said Johnson Center Director Mark Geyer. “I am extremely impressed with our team’s ability to find new tools and techniques for continuing our work and protecting our people and communities.”

Other agency efforts include:

VITAL Ventilator

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California designed a new high-pressure ventilator tailored specifically to treat COVID-19 patients. The device, called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), is designed to treat patients who might not require a full-featured ventilator, thereby keeping the nation’s limited supply of traditional ventilators available for patients with the most severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Aerospace Valley Positive Pressure Helmet

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California collaborated with Antelope Valley Hospital, the City of Lancaster, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, Antelope Valley College, and members of the Antelope Valley Task Force to address potential shortages of critical medical equipment in the local community.

One of the task force’s first efforts was to build an oxygen helmet to treat COVID-19 patients exhibiting minor symptoms, minimizing the need for those patients to use ventilators. The Aerospace Valley Positive Pressure Helmet, a device that functions like a continuous positive airway pressure, commonly known as CPAP, machine to force oxygen into a patient’s low-functioning lungs.

Surface Decontamination System

Through its Regional Economic Development Program, engineers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio collaborated with Ohio Company Emergency Products and Research in 2015 to guide the development and production of a small, portable and economical device that decontaminates spaces in under an hour and at a fraction of the cost of systems currently in use. AMBUStat is being used in ambulances, police cars, and other areas to kill airborne and surface particles of viruses. Now, NASA Glenn is conducting additional research to maximize the effectiveness of this device on COVID-19.

NASA’s legacy of human space exploration, research, and technology development has yielded countless innovations that prove the direct and profound impact of taxpayer investments in America’s space program on our quality of life on Earth. These innovations include improved technologies for water purification, air filtration, kidney dialysis and tele-medicine, as well as research that has led to improved vaccines, drug therapies, and mitigations for bone loss. We can only speculate as to the breadth of transformative benefits that will come from America’s return to the Moon through NASA’s Artemis program and our efforts to put the first humans on Mars.

For more information about NASA’s efforts, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/coronavirus

Group photo of Gerald Miller of Harris County Public Health and NASA team for Space News Roundup Feature on COVID-19 response.
Group photo of Gerald Miller of Harris County Public Health and NASA team for Space News Roundup Feature on COVID-19 response.