Under the present NASA SBIR solicitation, it has been stated that “future human spacecraft, such as Gateway and Mars vehicles, may be required to be dormant while crew is absent from the vehicle, for periods that could last from 1 to 3 years. Before crews can return, these environments must be verified prior to crew return. These novel methods have the potential to enable remote autonomous microbial monitoring that does not require manual sample collection, preparation, or processing."
The proposed research leverages off of prior successful NASA and DHS investigations where trace species in the air are attracted to, and captured by, desorbing electrospray droplets. Microorganisms can be captured in this manner, and lysed at will for examination using mass spectrometry for proteomic and metabolic biomarker discovery.
A Phase II in 2008 which included Nobel Laureate Dr. John Fenn, space suit manufacturer Hamilton-Sundstrand, and former Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, teamed with our firm along with Dr. Jim Gaier formerly of NASA Glenn, to create an electrospray air filtration system using only milliwatts of power and zero pressure drop to scrub the air of simulated lunar regolith for use on spacecraft and in lunar habitats. This system was featured in NASA Tech Briefs.
For this new study, we propose to merge the air filtration techniques learned from the earlier study, which revealed that airborne microorganisms could be captured by electrospray, and to direct those captured trace species into a mass analyzer for identification via metabolomic data.
The NASA applications include not only pathogen detection on board a spacecraft or in a habitat, but allow for pathogen removal in addition to any particulates and NASA SMAC gases that may be present. An added potential benefit is the possibility of monitoring crew health via exhaled breath once aboard the spacecraft or while occupying a habitat.
Non-NASA applications include potential pathogen air monitoring in a building, hospital air quality monitoring, commercial air filtration, and biosafety air purification applications.