Here's a mindblowing statistic: according to the Royal College of Nursing, the United Kingdom's National Health Service spends on the order of £2-billion a year on the treatment of bed sores (skin and muscle injuries, common among bedridden patients, that result when regions of the body are subjected to prolonged periods of pressure).
That translates to over 3-billion U.S. dollars annually — which, as a point of reference, is more than twice NASA's planetary sciences budget for 2012.
In other words: Britain spends more money treating pressure sores than the U.S. spends exploring other worlds, which is one of the saddest realizations I've come to in quite some time.
The bad news: NASA's Planetary Sciences division is slated to take a big hit in funding come 2013 (dropping from 1.5-billion to 1.2-billion dollars). See more on how to fix that down below. For now, here's some good news on bed sores. A team of Canadian researchers thinks it may have found a cost-effective (if somewhat bizarre-sounding) way to prevent bed-sores: electrified underpants that deliver regular jolts of electricity to a patient's buttocks.
Canadian academics said that in a short trial on 37 people, the mild current mimicked fidgeting and prevented the sores forming.
Patients who were unable to move because of a spinal cord injury were zapped with 10 seconds of stimulation every 10 minutes for 12 hours a day.
The findings, presented at the Neuroscience 2012 conference, showed that none of the 37 patients developed a sore during the month long trial.
The researchers said the device mimicked fidgeting leaving people sitting in a slightly different position.
Robyn Rogers, a research nurse at the University, told the BBC that incidence of bed sores has not changed since the 1940s. It stands to reason that an "innovative, clinically friendly" system like electrified underpants could prove a remarkable resource, not only improving the lives of millions of hospital patients, but dramatically reducing costs to the NHS.
That all sounds pretty great. Now what do we do about NASA's dwindling planetary sciences budget? We fight for it. Bill Nye and the Planetary Society are already doing exactly this, and you can, too. Start by making your voice heard. Visit The Planetary Society's "Save Our Science" website to learn more, and to write a letter in support of planetary exploration. Because as national goals go, spending more on space exploration that Britain does treating bed sores should be at the very top of America's list.