Aerial view of JPL's main facility near Los Angeles

You can take the rocket scientists into retirement, but you can't turn off the inventive skills retired NASA professionals carry with them. Retired engineers and scientists who helped make history at the dawn of the Space Age are now applying their skills to the world of medicine.

These enterprising space veterans from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, are now helping doctors and patients with expertise forged in the world of space technology.

"We may look like seniors, but our professional skills are still in high gear and our creativity never dies," said Herman Bank, space engineering veteran and founder and director of Volunteer Professionals for Medical Advancement. He and his brainy 65- to-85-year-old retired NASA colleagues, Bank said, "are just too young to retire."

By working with Volunteer Professionals for Medical Advancement these retirees from the JPL donate some of their time to work closely with doctors and other medical professionals to brainstorm, research and develop new medical technologies. The organization's purpose is to provide hospitals with free services that such facilities could otherwise not afford. The hospitals, in turn, find that with the retired space professionals, they get top-notch brainpower and reliable assistance. The accomplishments of this retiree organization have brought its members state and national honors.

The group has been responsible for a number of medical advancements, including:

* Preliminary design of an automated oxygen enrichment system for premature babies. Working with Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, retired volunteers and doctors are working to remove the inaccuracies of manually controlled oxygen systems, which can affect the infant's eyesight, brain and lung development.

* Solving a blood clot problem found with a stent that could cause heart attacks. Retired professional volunteers introduced a special electropolishing process to provide a super-smooth stent surface. The electropolishing process, developed in the aerospace industry, is not well known by doctors. The resulting electropolished stent practically eliminated further blood clot formation with the device.

* Creation of an advanced-database private computer network for pediatricians. Working with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, retired professionals are helping pediatricians nationwide to correspond about children's illnesses using JPL's method of data management. This database will provide a depository for historical data of diagnoses, research, treatments and results. Doctors estimate that extended medical use of the computer database systems could reduce health care costs by 20 to 30 percent.

With each project, these retirees find that the rewards are numerous. "Results of the project clearly show that volunteers have made major contributions to medical advancement," said Bank. "Doctors and hospital staff are very appreciative of this volunteer professional assistance, which they can seldom find or afford." He went on to note, "Retired professionals find interest and satisfaction in challenges which do not interfere with retirement activities."

Bank said that as a young man, he always wanted to go into the field of medicine. Unable to afford medical school at the time, he decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and found himself at JPL. Bank proves that it's never too late to pursue one's aspirations. "I decided that after doing 20 years of space I wanted to do something here on Earth to advance medicine," said Bank.

Embarking on their 10th year as an organization, these retirees are looking forward to future challenges in medicine which includes encouraging other retired engineers and scientists to look for volunteer consulting opportunities. "The expansion of this activity nationally should help medical advancement considerably without cost, while using a skilled manpower resource," said Bank.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

News Media Contact

Gabrielle Birchak-Birkman, JPL, (818) 393-4359

Michael Braukus, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, (202) 358-1979

Herman Bank, Volunteer Professionals for Medical Advancement (626) 791-3748