Space Station’s Benefits for Humanity

By  //  November 28, 2013

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ABOVE VIDEO: Though you can read about the many benefits originating from International Space Station research and technology, in NASA’s new video feature “Benefits for Humanity: In Their Own Words,” it is now easy to see those benefits as well.

Dr. Garnette Sutherland performs neurosurgery using the precise neuroArm, adapted from highly-specialized robotics technology on the International Space Station. (NASA.gov image)

Dr. Garnette Sutherland performs neurosurgery using the precise neuroArm, adapted from highly-specialized robotics technology on the International Space Station. (NASA.gov image)

The space station provides a microgravity environment for researchers to conduct multidisciplinary investigations, for educators to inspire next generation scientists and engineers, and to serve as a stepping stone to future exploration that was not possible just 15 years ago.

Considered one of the greatest technological, geopolitical and engineering achievements in history, the space station is a collaborative effort between 16 nations. More than 69 countries have participated in research and educational activities on the orbiting laboratory that advances our fundamental scientific knowledge, supports the exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit and provides a multitude of benefits to humans on Earth.

A boy in Chiapas, Mexico fills his cup with clean drinking water at school, using adapted water purification technology from the International Space Station Environmental Control and Life Support System. (NASA.gov image)

A boy in Chiapas, Mexico fills his cup with clean drinking water at school, using adapted water purification technology from the International Space Station Environmental Control and Life Support System. (NASA.gov image)

A few examples of the benefits provided by research performed on the space station are highlighted in “Benefits for Humanity: In Their Own Words,” including: neurosurgical medical technology in Canada; water purification technology in rural Mexico;agricultural monitoring in the northern Great Plains of the United States;student amateur radio interaction with the space station in the Midwest United States; and, remote telemedicine in rural Brazil.

Making waves in neurosurgery, the neuroArm was adapted from the Canadian Space Agency’s Canadarm, Canadarm2 and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre).

The International Space Station Agricultural Camera (ISSAC) hardware in the Destiny laboratory of the space station helps farmers monitor crop growth for disease or fertility differences. (NASA.gov image)

The International Space Station Agricultural Camera (ISSAC) hardware in the Destiny laboratory of the space station helps farmers monitor crop growth for disease or fertility differences. (NASA.gov image)

These robots helped to build and maintain the space station and provide heavy-lifting and spacecraft berthing capabilities. The first patient to benefit from the neuroArm technology, Paige Nickason, has neurofibromatosis, a medical condition that caused a complex tumor to grow underneath the front part of her brain.

This condition gave her intense pain and nearly confined her to bed rest full-time.

Dr. Garnette Sutherland, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Calgary in Canada, approached space robot engineers and scientists at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, Ltd., with an idea to bring the technology of space down to Earth. “If they could build complex robots, perhaps in collaboration with medicine, we could build a robot that could operate inside an MRI machine,” explained Sutherland. The result was neuroArm, an instrument that operates inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to show detailed brain images while operating on the brain with the precision and accuracy of a neurosurgeon.

A Boy Scout talks to a crew member aboard the International Space Station using Amateur Radio International Space Station (ARISS) contact during the annual Space Jam event.

A Boy Scout talks to a crew member aboard the International Space Station using Amateur Radio International Space Station (ARISS) contact during the annual Space Jam event. (NASA.gov image)

According to Sutherland, neuroArm operates at a level of precision “that is overwhelmingly superior to what the best surgeon may be able to do.”

A grateful, healthy Nickason remarked, “I’m glad that it helped people who have my disease, and I hope it helps people who need surgery in the future.”

Saving lives does not have to be as complex as robotic surgery, but can be as simple as providing the life-giving source of clean water. This specifically is of utmost importance to a community in rural Mexico, showing the far-reaching benefits of the water purification component of NASA’s Environmental and Life Control Support System (ECLSS). ECLSS provides clean water for drinking, cooking and hygiene aboard the space station. This technology has been adapted on Earth to aid remote locations or places devastated by natural disaster that do not have access to clean drinking water.

Joaquim de Diniz, a physician in Manga in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil performs a tele-ultrasound and communicates the data with another physician over the internet. (NASA.gov image)

Joaquim de Diniz, a physician in Manga in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil performs a tele-ultrasound and communicates the data with another physician over the internet. (NASA.gov image)

In Chiapas, Mexico, many people are at risk of illness from drinking contaminated water from wells, rivers or springs not treated by municipal water systems. Children in Chiapas, previously sickened by parasites and stomach bugs, now have access during school to clean, safe drinking water. This is due to the installation of the ECLSS-derived water purification plant. Renewable solar energy powers the water treatment technology for the community in Chiapas. Results include improved overall health and cost-savings from not having to buy purified water or medication to treat water-borne illnesses.


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