NASA Tech Spinoff to Save Trapped Miners

First Posted: Sep 29, 2012 04:41 AM EDT

A technology that was actually designed for the use of astronauts in the hazardous environment of space can now be used as a lifesaver in dangerous occupation such as coal mining.

Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Ariz., is providing the air revitalization system it matured under a NASA Space Act Agreement to Mine Shield LLC of Lancaster, Ky., for use in its underground miner refuge chambers. 

When miners are trapped underground, these air tight metal chambers are used as life saving havens, providing them with air, water and food until they are being rescued.

"This is a great example of NASA investment fostering entrepreneurial activity in other markets," said Phil McAlister, director of NASA's Commercial Spaceflight Development in Washington, D.C. "The technology was developed as part of an effort to stimulate the private sector to develop commercial space transportation concepts and enable capabilities for future commercial support of human spaceflight with U.S. taxpayer dollars and Paragon's private investment. The company then found another market for it, leading to the development of a new commercial product and service, which will help save the lives of American miners."

It was in 2010 that NASA began to invest in the commercial sector's capability to support transport of crew to and from low Earth orbit. They had invested $1.5 million of American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 economic stimulus funds in Paragon to mature its air purifying system during this initiative.

This new technology could play an important role in the life support systems for future deep space exploration missions.

"Our air revitalization system recycles the air by using a series of scrubbers, filters and catalysts that purify the air over and over again," said Taber MacCallum, chief executive officer of Paragon. "The fact that this system, which was developed for human space exploration, has other important applications here on Earth shows how NASA and space exploration energizes American innovation."

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