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Martek’s space award takes firm back to NASA origins

By Lorraine Heller , 08-Apr-2009

Martek Biosciences, the leading algae-sourced omega-3 producer, last week had its supplement product inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame, in recognition of the nutritional benefit that has grown out of early NASA work.

The company, whose life’sDHA ingredient is today used in around 95 percent of infant formula products sold in the United States, first explored the use of microalgae for nutrition as part of a NASA research project.

Microalgae space food

In the 1980s, the NASA Ames Research Center studied microalgae for use as a food supply, oxygen source and waste disposal catalyst on long-duration interplanetary space missions, explained the Space Foundation, a non-profit space research and education group that created the Space Technology Hall of Fame together with NASA in 1988.

“Martek Biosciences, a research and development organization that grew out of that early NASA work, discovered that the crypthecodinium cohnii algae produces high levels of DHA omega-3 fatty acid (docosahexaenoic acid), and a fungus (Mortierella alpine) that yields ARA (arachidonic acid), another essential fatty acid,” said the Space Foundation.

“Important to healthy infant development, these essential fatty acids occur naturally in human breast milk, but were not found in infant formulas at the time.” As a result, Martek developed an algae-based baby formula – Formulaid – which is now consumed by over 33m babies around the world.

Transferring space tech benefits

The Space Foundation‘s technology award is designed to increase public awareness of the benefits resulting from space exploration programs and to encourage further innovation. So far, 59 technologies have been inducted, identified as space technologies “transformed […] into commercial products that improve the quality of life for all humanity”.

Martek last week received its induction into the Space Technology Hall of Fame at the 25th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The second inductee had developed an efficient truck cab design, an aerodynamic fairing concept originally developed for spaceflight.

The technologies were selected by a panel of judges representing the National Security Space Office, NASA, the state of Colorado, and former Space Technology Hall of Fame inductees.

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