FINDER keepers: Technology developed for outer space is saving lives on Earth

The Department of Homeland Security and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed a new radar-based technology dubbed “Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response” (FINDER), to aid in detecting victims buried in rubble. FINDER is based on the technology NASA’s Deep Space Network uses to monitor the movements and location of its spacecraft millions of miles away.

“FINDER is bringing NASA technology that explores other planets to the effort to save lives on ours,” said Mason Peck, chief technologist for NASA and principal advisor on technology policy and programs. “This is a prime example of intergovernmental collaboration and expertise that has a direct benefit to the American taxpayer.”

The state-of-the-art device uses low-power microwave radar waves to detect the heartbeat or breathing of victims, even through 30 feet of concrete and steel. FINDER can locate people in the wreckage even if they are unconscious. Best of all, the unit is small and lightweight, making it optimal for any sort of disaster scenario.

“It’s a small but very powerful piece of technology,” said Peck.

“This is a great project to work on,” said James Lux, task manager for FINDER at JPL. “A lot of things we do at NASA are very complex and hard to explain, but this project is simple and has great results. To be contributing to something that is going to save lives is really neat. That’s what I’m in business for.”

The sponsoring agency for the demonstration was the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. For more information, visit: and

This article appeared in the 3rd issue of RocketSTEM magazine.

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