I was part of an interesting discussion yesterday about how we can keep the social media ball rolling. (astronaut Karen Nyberg is a quilter? Who knew?) It all boils down to answering the question, “What does NASA do that makes it worth taxpayer dollars?” I think people like seeing the pictures from space, but that really doesn’t affect them at home. Unfortunately, too many think that the only NASA spinoffs are Velcro and Tang. The nature of the pharmaceutical industry is that we can talk about new medicines being developed on orbit right now, but we might not see them on the market for 10 years or more.
One medical advance that I just learned about is the neuroArm. This uses the technology developed for the Canadarm2 (to me, SSRMS or Space Station Remote Manipulator System) and Dextre robot arms to make difficult surgeries easier.
MDA worked with a team led by Dr. Garnette Sutherland at the University of Calgary to develop a highly precise robotic arm that works in conjunction with the advanced imaging capabilities of MRI systems. Surgeons needed to be able to perform surgeries while a patient was inside a magnetic resonance (MRI) machine, which meant designing a robot that was as dexterous as the human hand but even more precise and tremor-free. Operating inside the MRI also means it had to be entirely made from non-magnetic materials (for instance, no steel) so that it would not be affected by the MRI’s magnetic field or adversely affect the MRI’s images. The project team developed novel ways to control the robot’s movements and give the robot’s operator a sense of touch — both essential so that the surgeon can precisely control the robot and can feel what is happening during the surgery.