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Additive Transforms Paint into Insulation

The heat generated by wind resistance and engine exhaust during the launch of a space shuttle is potentially damaging to the casings on the solid rocket boosters, which provide over two-thirds of the initial thrust needed to propel the spacecraft into orbit. To protect this important equipment, in the 1980s, engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center developed a spray-on insulating process that was applied to the boosters’ forward assembly, systems tunnel covers, and aft skirt. The process involved mixing nine chemicals into an adhesive, and then, acting quickly during a 5-hour window, applying the material. The materials were costly, and if the application was interrupted or not completed within the 5-hour window, the batch was lost. In addition to this drawback, the strength of the material was difficult to regulate, so it often chipped off during flight and splashdown, when the reusable boosters are dropped into the sea. Adding to the downside, two of the nine ingredients were harmful to the environment.

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Food Supplement Reduces Fat, Improves Flavor

During the Mercury missions, astronauts ate terrible food: freeze- dried powders and semi-liquids in aluminum tubes. Decades later, though, astronauts now have meals prepared by celebrity chefs and access to everyday items like shrimp cocktail, stir-fried chicken, and fettuccine alfredo. While the culinary selection has improved, the developers of these gourmet delights are still faced with a number of challenges.

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Detailed Globes Enhance Education and Recreation

Earth from space—swirling wisps of white against a backdrop of deep azure, punctuated with brown and green swatches of land, all etched on one orb surrounded by black space, floating, seemingly isolated, but teeming with humanity and other forms of life. It is an iconic image, first captured November 10, 1967, by the Applications Technology Satellite (ATS)-3, an unmanned craft conducting payload experiments and examining the space environment. Since then, astronauts and spacecraft have sent back hundreds of pictures of Earth, and each one has had the same breathtaking effect.

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Corrosive Gas Restores Artwork, Promises Myriad Applications

Short wavelength solar radiation in the space environment just outside of the Earth’s atmosphere produces atomic oxygen. This gas reacts with spacecraft polymers, causing gradual oxidative thinning of the protective layers of orbiting objects, like satellites and the International Space Station, which maintain low-Earth orbit directly in the area where the corrosive gas is most present.

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Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments

Although one of NASA’s goals is to send people to the far reaches of our universe, it is still well known that people need Earth. We understand that humankind’s existence relies on its complex relationship with this planet’s environment—in particular, the regenerative qualities of Earth’s ecosystems.

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Infrared Imaging Sharpens View in Critical Situations

The Microgravity Combustion Science group at NASA’s Glenn Research Center studies how fire and combustible liquids and gasses behave in low-gravity conditions. This group, currently working as part of the Life Support and Habitation Branch under the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, conducts this research with a careful eye toward fire prevention, detection, and suppression, in order to establish the highest possible safety margins for space-bound materials.

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Chemical-Sensing Cables Detect Potential Threats

As fleets of aircraft age, corrosion of metal parts becomes a very real economic and safety concern. Corrosive agents like moisture, salt, and industrial fluids—and even internal problems, like leaks and condensation—wear away and, especially over time and repeated exposure, begin to corrode aircraft.

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