Creating Environments for Innovation : NASA Launch at Kennedy Space Center

Discovery on the Launch pad

Launch ( @launchorg )

The driver of the taxi from the Orlando airport told me that she has no health insurance, works 70 hours a week, and yet her daughter is a superstar nurse in a local trauma center. The hotel employee who walked me to the fitness center at 6:30 am told me that he was out of breath within 60 seconds of our walk; he said he could never be normal weight, he works two jobs and his wife’s cooking is too good (I asked him to please walk two more guests to the fitness center that day, and yes he could).

I am a big proponent of the idea that a big part of leadership is creating the right environments for people to shine. One of my favorites is the Garfield Center Health Care Innovation Center ( @KPGarfield ). The Kennedy Space Center is another.

For the last two days, I was a guest of NASA ( @NASA ), and co-sponsors USAID ( @usaid ), Nike ( no central twitter handle, so @nikestore ), and the US State Department ( @StateDept ) along with Kaiser Permanente ( @KPNewsCenter ) colleague Debbie Cantu at LAUNCH ( @Launchorg ). Before I went, I was about 75 % sure what it was, and mostly sure that it included the opportunity to watch the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, mission STS-133, so I went.

STS-133 was delayed, so I did not see the actual launch (we did go to see the orbiter, photos below). I did, however, spend two great days with fellow members of the Launch Council and 10 innovators in areas designed to solve important global health problems.

The rationale behind Launch became clear to me when Astronaut Ron Garan came in person to show us a video of his last Space Shuttle mission STS-124, from his perspective, including video in the cockpit and the communication back and forth between the Shuttle and the ground. You can see the videos from STS-124 here, but it is hard to explain, seeing the world the way our astronauts see it, from the place where this experience is built is emotional. You sort of can’t believe that after this amazing journey that the planet you are looking at has so much inability and so much potential to allow coexistence at the same time. And really, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The format of Launch itself is very innovative. the innovators are carefully selected and coached in short presentations of their ideas to the Launch Council. The presentations include information about the idea, the team, and what it is they need specifically to launch – resources, funding, office space, contacts. Then, in short “impact sessions” Launch team moderators accompany innovators to small groups of Council members with specific questions, requests for contacts, and advice. The method does not end here; notes are taken and Launch team continues its work in an accelerator phase, which involves making the suggested connections.

From the perspective as a Kaiser Permanente physician, the interaction with the other Launch Council members was also terrific. One important factor about this experience is that Kennedy Space Center is about an hour by bus from Orlando, so there was plenty of time to learn from others.

Other Council members included innovators from the food industry/nutrition/wellness ( Fonterra, General Mills, Kraft , Nike ), Science/Research/Life Sciences ( National Institutes of Health, Johnson & Johnson ), and Global Health ( Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, State Department ), and more…

As I have written here previously, I am slightly obsessed with the idea of the Food Personal Health Record (Safeway, are you listening?), and the ability of the medical profession to collaborate in leveraging the impact of food for good health.

Apparently, I may also be slightly obsessed with the importance of the cereal box, since I kept suggesting that every innovation should be packaged in a cereal box (it’s because I was sitting with leaders from General Mills…). However, many of the innovations really do represent an important ability to take technologies that fill rooms and cost many thousands of dollars and make them cereal box-sized (see below).

All of this focused effort has a nice social media layer, with live UStreaming, and innovative tools developed by partially Washington, DC-based JESS3 ( @Jess3 ), who are working with NASA on public outreach using advanced technology. I’m going to write a separate post about this.

At the end of the experience, we were asked to put together a quote about what it meant, and here’s mine:

Launch creates an environment for people to think about what they would want anyone looking at our planet to know about us – that we respected our home and worked together every day to ensure its beauty. – Ted Eytan

To respect the work of the 10 innovators and Launch team, I’m including a short description of each one below. Since they are working toward a launch of their own, feel free to connect with them with your ideas and/or post them in the comments. I know that their presentations and full bios are on the site – I am taking the time here to include them in this post for a little extra Google and Twitter juice. Go on, follow them. You and they deserve it:

  • Asthmapolis ( @asthmapolis ) – A GPS receiver attached to a standard inhaler informs patients, public health, and potentially the health care system about the use of rescue inhalers for asthma. A window into day-to-day management of asthma is suddenly opened that helps people and communities understand what they can do to breathe easier.
  • Bioneedle ( No Twitter handle ) – A biodegradable, implantable needle replaces the syringe and metal needle used to give vaccinations, increasing throughput, availability, and sustainability of immunization for large populations.
  • The Chlorine Bank ( No Twitter handle ) – Using a grocery-store model supply chain network to bring water purification supplies to rural communities, reducing water-borne diseases, simply and cost-effectively.
  • HealthySocial ( @healthysocial ) – Combining gaming, social networks, like Facebook, to teach kids about healthy eating, and engage communities in the public health system. Winner of the Corporate Recognition Award in Apps for Healthy Kids!
  • Frontline SMS: Medic ( @SMSMedic ) – Cost effective software and tools leveraging SMS to bring health care information, EHR-lite functionality, and medical advice to rural communities in Africa and beyond.
  • Lenseless Ultra-wide-field Cell monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging (LUCAS) (No Twitter handle) – replacing microscopes with optical lenses with a lensless device that images shadows of cells to perform basic diagnostic tests with a cell phone.
  • mChip (No Twitter handle) – A lab on a chip that brings ELISA tests (think prostate cancer, sexually transmitted illness like HIV, Chlamydia, Syphilis) to the desktop (or actually the palm of the hand).
  • iMetrikus MediCompass Connect – a universal FDA-cleared connector between devices for health, wellness, and chronic illness and health information technology, supporting the promise of bio and wellness monitoring in healthcare.
  • NETRA (No Twitter Handle) – Small, portable device that attaches to a cell phone to accurately measure refractive error. I tried it myself, and it got my eyeglass prescription right.
  • Zamzee ( @Zamzee ) – Turning activity among Tweens into a gaming concept supported by technology and incentives.

Launch Health was the second instance of this program. Launch Water occurred in March, 2010. The next one is TBA (can I come?).


Ted Eytan, MD