Institute Scholar wins NASA Innovation Award

the international space station with earth visible in the background

George Brainard, Ph.D., a Scholar of the Institute for Integrative Health and a key member of NASA’s flexible lighting team, has received NASA’s Johnson Space Center Director’s Innovation Award. 

Director of the Light Research Program at Thomas Jefferson University, Dr. Brainard collaborated with researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, including Dr. Charles Czeisler, Chief, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders; Dr. Elizabeth Klerman, associate physician; and Dr. Steven Lockly, associate neuroscientist, as well as scientists from NASA.

Dr. Brainard’s team at Jefferson worked on the design and testing of the new lights for the crew of the International Space Station that will allow astronauts to sleep—and perform—better in space. Currently, astronauts are allocated 8.5 hours per night for sleep, but half the 60 astronauts in a recent study slept six hours or less per 24-hour mission day and were unable to make up the sleep.

Over time, their performance declined, posing a serious concern for the overall mission. Sleep deprivation occurred because of the current spacecraft lighting, interruptions, and excitement inherent in space flight.

The new, adjustable L.E.D. lights have three settings and use color to help astronauts sleep better and perform better during the day. They were tested in a special simulation center built in the Jefferson Light Research Lab. NASA will begin relamping the Space Station next year with the new L.E.D. lights.

Visit Dr. Brainard’s sleep lab:

Dr. Brainard said, “It has been exciting to work on the advanced lighting system for the International Space Station. This new technology opens the door for changes in lighting here on Earth that may improve the health and well-being of everyday citizens. The new lighting system for the Space Station is designed to improve both astronauts’ visual stimulation as well as sleep and circadian rhythms.”