In this file photo from October 1997, STS-86 Mission Specialist Scott Parazynski gets assistance from a suit technician in making adjustments to his launch and entry suit in the Operations and Checkout Building. Parazynski retired from NASA in 2009 and now is helping medical researchers build diagnostic tools. One goal is a Star Trek-like tricoder.
A former NASA astronaut known for his on-the-fly innovations aims to help a research hospital create diagnostic tools akin to the medical tricorder made famous on "Star Trek."
The medical tricorder is a fictional device that can scan a person to diagnose diseases and injuries. It has long fascinated Scott Parazynski, who last flew space shuttle Discovery in 2007 to the International Space Station and used in-house materials to fix a tear in the station's solar array.
Parazynski retired from NASA in 2009 and recently took a job as the chief medical and technology officer for the Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston where he plans to help investigators obtain funding and use the best technologies to meet their needs.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, he said he's most interested helping create the next generation of minimally invasive surgery and diagnostic tools. Inspiration, he noted, comes partially from Star Trek tech.
"As a physician growing up and watching Star Trek, we all wanted a medical tricorder," he told the paper. "So one of the things I'd love to do is think big and push the envelope on what is possible."
Attempts to build real-world tricorders have been made in the past. For example, Boris Rubinsky and colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley reported in 2008 on a tricorder-like device that couples handheld medical scanners and cell phones to detect tumors.
There's also an international push among biologists to develop handheld devices to read the "DNA barcodes" of species out in the field. This could, for example, help protect endangered species and thwart the illegal trafficking of wildlife.
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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).