FDA approves new NASA ventilator for COVID-19 treatment

The FDA has approved this VITAL ventilator for coronavirus disease patients designed and built by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new ventilator developed by NASA to treat victims of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the space agency said today (April 30). 

The NASA ventilator, a high-pressure device called VITAL, was developed by engineers at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in response to the limited supply of traditional ventilators for COVID-19 patients suffering from respiratory distress. 

"This FDA authorization is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "This ventilator is one of countless examples of how taxpayer investments in space exploration — the skills, expertise and knowledge collected over decades of pushing boundaries and achieving firsts for humanity — translate into advancements that improve life on Earth."

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FDA officials approved the VITAL ventilator (the name is short for Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally) under the administration's Emergency Use Authorization of March 24. JPL engineers developed the new ventilator in 37 days and tested it April 21 at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. 

The ventilator was one of several coronavirus-fighting devices and technologies NASA showed President Donald Trump last week

"VITAL poses several benefits in the national response to COVID-19," NASA officials said in the statement. "It can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator, and is composed of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains."

Some of the dozens of engineers involved in creating a ventilator prototype specially targeted to coronavirus disease patients at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The device can also be modified for use in field hospitals, like those in some convention centers and hotels across the country, NASA officials added. The VITAL ventilator is designed to last up to four months and is not a replacement for dedicated hospital ventilators, which can last years.

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which manages JPL for NASA, is offering a free license for the VITAL ventilator to commercial medical manufacturers.

"Now that we have a design, we're working to pass the baton to the medical community, and ultimately patients, as quickly as possible," Fred Farina, chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer at Caltech, said in the statement. "To that end, we are offering the designs for licensing on a royalty-free basis during the time of the pandemic."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.