A made-in-SA hearing test is about to launch to the ISS, after makers ‘create our own luck’

Business Insider SA
The International Space Station
  • Hearing-test hardware made by a Johannesburg company is about to be launched into space, to be used in assessments of astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
  • SA company eMoyo says it made its KUDUwave boothless audiometer to be tough and portable, and it required only slight modifications to be made ready for space.
  • As for getting its gear into space, that was a process of making its own luck.
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If the weather continues to hold, a commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, known as the Northrop Grumman NG CRS-15 launch, will blast off early Saturday night, South African time.

Aboard will be "space worms" for biological experiments, a system for making artificial retinas in microgravity – and some very specialised earphones made in Johannesburg.

South African company eMoyo learnt this week that its KUDUwave boothless audiometer had been packed as manifested cargo for the mission, which means that – barring outright disaster – it will be used off-planet.

It is rather excited about that prospect.

Space is noisy, and preventing hearing loss among astronauts has been one of the key medical priorities for Nasa for decades. The KUDUwave was built to be small, robust and easy to use. Critically, and eMoyo says unique at its diagnostic level, it was also designed to offer tympanometry, which measures the functioning of the middle-ear, without the need for an audio booth.

That has proven handy in the coronavirus pandemic, allowing for open-air hearing tests – and is an advantage on a mission to space where space is severely constrained.

The standard KUDUwave Pro TMP unit the company builds in Johannesburg (and sells to anyone with a little over R100,000 to spare, before shipping) had to be only "slightly modified for self-testing in space", eMoyo executive John Tidy told Business Insider South Africa.

A KuduWave diagnostic immittance audiometer
The KUDUwave Pro TMP audiometer. (eMoyo)

Getting it a ticket to go to space was harder.

"Taking the KUDUwave to space was one of our dreams for many years," said Tidy. "We had to create our own luck."

It did that by publishing in American medical journals, working with American universities, and attending conferences in the USA.

"Eventually, we were introduced to members of the Johnson Space Center by the president of a prominent Journal on Audiology in the USA. We visited them a few times and then we got the good news that we were on the shortlist. Over a period of three years the technology was tested and then we heard we were selected."

This week it learnt that its equipment had been packed up, ready to be tucked at the top of a rocket.

Though the KUDUwave is its flagship product, eMoyo also makes Business Insider SA's favourite face mask for those who wear glasses.

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