RTI Brings Space Research Back Down to Earth
"We listened to what they needed…and submitted it to NASA for a possible solution"
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, one year after the launch of Sputnik, the government required that NASA's technological breakthroughs in aeronautics, material design, miniaturization, and computers be adapted for the public's benefit. Over the ensuing decades, RTI helped fulfill this mandate, as a team of scientists investigated candidate NASA technologies that could be be spun off by the private sector into practical applications.
This group called itself the Biomedical Applications Team, or the BAT team (BAT became TAT, for Technology Applications Team, in the late 1970s). Led for many years by future RTI president Thomas Wooten, the BAT team developed an implantable insulin-delivery device for managing diabetes and other chronic illnesses; it also transformed the control mechanism of NASA's lunar rover into a single-stick device that controlled direction, speed, and braking, in order to help physically handicapped people drive vehicles.
The BAT Team also developed "cool suits," derived from the garments worn by astronauts, for people without sweat glands or those who had been paralyzed. The suits helped prevent heat stroke, a common occurrence in this population. "We worked with companies and organizations like the Paralyzed Veterans of America and with burn surgeons. We listened to what they needed, then we wrote up a problem statement and submitted it to NASA engineers for a possible solution," explains Doris Rouse, who directed RTI's technology transfer work in the 1980s and 1990s.
The close collaboration between RTI and NASA in the 1970s and 1980s continues to pay dividends today. In 2006, RTI led efforts to identify potential markets for emulsified zero-valent iron (EZVI), developed by NASA at Kennedy Space Center to remediate groundwater pollution. EZVI successfully treats halogenated solvents, notoriously stubborn chemical contaminants that sink through soils and into aquifers, offering a tremendous improvement over past remediation methods; the technology holds great promise in the cleanup of hundreds of contaminated sites across the country, including more than half the sites on the federal Superfund list.
RTI has maintained a long and productive collaboration with NASA. (image from 50th anniversary book)