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Johnson Space Center unveils possible alliances at Pumps & Pipes 6

Johnson Space Center’s Strategic Opportunities and Partnership Development Office made an impressive debut on Dec. 3 as it joined with Houston’s globally recognized oil and gas and medical communities for Pumps & Pipes 6, a growing collaboration started by some of the region’s brightest engineers and scientists to exchange strategies for solving tough technical problems that could improve the lives of everyone.

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NASA technology was on display at Pumps & Pipes 6, showing possible future alliances in the medical and oil and gas industries. Credit: Robert Banfield.
The annual one-day Pumps & Pipes sessions got underway in 2007 following a chance conversation between a Texas Medical Center (TMC) cardiovascular surgeon and an ExxonMobil drilling engineer seated next to one another on a passenger jet outbound from Houston.

“We’re all about humans,” JSC Director Mike Coats told 200 professionals who welcomed NASA and its advances in robotics to the 2012 session hosted by the TMC’s Methodist Hospital Research Institute.

“To succeed we must learn to communicate and collaborate across industries,” said Coats, who invited his colleagues to consider the center’s accomplishments in robotics as one example of what NASA personnel can contribute to their energy and healthcare challenges.

NASA’s debut featured displays of the Lunar Electric Rover, a 12-wheeled all-terrain prototype vehicle designed to house small teams of explorers for long excursions across the moon or rugged Martian landscape; Robonaut, the humanoid robot developed as an assistant to astronauts and currently undergoing evaluations aboard the International Space Station; as well as the X-1, a human exoskeleton derived from Robonaut components to help astronauts carry heavy loads as they hike across planetary surfaces.

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The exoskeleton, derived from Robonaut technology, could one day could help those restricted to wheel chairs by illness or injury to walk again. Credit: Robert Banfield.
In a keynote address, Robert Ambrose, chief of JSC’s Software, Robotics and Simulation division, outlined just some of the possibilities that NASA’s work in those fields brings to the table:

* The rover and its suit ports, which permit astronauts to exit quickly for spacewalks, could become the model for an effective emergency response vehicle capable of rescuing injured workers isolated by fire, toxic spills and other disasters.

* The X-1, with its rigid lightweight frame and interconnected motors and sensors, could help those restricted to wheel chairs by illness or injury to walk again. Or, it might help workers scale oil rigs.

* The Active Response Gravity Offload System, a specialized crane developed to simulate varying forces of gravity for astronauts training to explore asteroids, the moon and Mars, might aide stroke victims in their progressive recoveries.

The Lunar Electric Rover attracted much attention while stationed at the Methodist Hospital Research Institute. Credit: Robert Banfield.
The Lunar Electric Rover attracted much attention while stationed at the Methodist Hospital Research Institute. Credit: Robert Banfield.
Aboard their passenger flight, the seminal Pumps & Pipes exchange between Dr. Alan Lumsden, medical director of the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center, and Zeljko Runje, a drilling engineer with ExxonMobil’s Sakhalin 1 Project in Russia, turned to their work and topics ranging from blood vessels to extended-reach oil wells. The two men soon realized their professions shared a common basis: pumps and pipes.

NASA was a natural addition to the alliance.

“We all work in places that are hard to get to and hard to get through,” said Materials Engineer David Gerrard of Baker Hughes, an oil field services company, during a Pumps & Pipes 6 presentation on nanotechnology, another NASA interest. “NASA has spaceflight. In oil and gas, we have to go down. Then, on the medical side, it’s in and out and all about every one of us.”


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Updated: 12/18/2012