NASA Spinoff

A mineral identification tool that was developed for NASA's Mars Rover Technology Development program is now serving as a powerful tool for U.S. law enforcement agencies and military personnel to identify suspicious liquid and solid substances.

By studying fire through the science of combustion physics, scientists and researchers from NASA, academia, and private industry find new ways to improve fire safety and increase fuel efficiency. Since gravity's effect on fire masks many details that occur during the combustion process, scientists can gain a better understanding of fire by studying it in microgravity.

When NASA needed help better securing its communications with orbiting satellites, the Agency called on Western DataCom Co., Inc., to help develop a prototype Internet Protocol (IP) router.

Attempting to locate a malfunctioning wire in a complex bundle of wires or in a cable that is concealed behind a wall is as difficult as trying to find a needle in a haystack. The result of such an effort can also be costly, time-consuming, and frustrating, whether it is the tedious process of examining cable connections for the Space Shuttle or troubleshooting a cable television hookup. Furthermore, other maintenance restrictions can compound the effort required to locate and repair a particular wiring problem. For example, on the Space Shuttle, once a repair is completed, all systems that have a wire passing through any of the connectors that were disconnected during troubleshooting are affected and, therefore, must undergo retesting­—an arduous task that is completely unrelated to the original problem.

Contrary to popular misconception, lightning often strikes the same place twice. Certain conditions are just ripe for a bolt of electricity to come zapping down; and a lightning strike is powerful enough to do a lot of damage wherever it hits. NASA created the Accurate Location of Lightning Strikes technology to determine the ground strike point of lightning and prevent electrical damage in the immediate vicinity of the Space Shuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

Scientists at work in the Planetary Protection division at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) sterilize everything before blasting it to the Red Planet. They take great pains to ensure that all spacecraft are void of bacterial life, especially the microscopic bacteria that can live hundreds of years in their spore states. No one is quite sure what Earthly germs would do on Mars, but scientists agree that it is safest to keep the Martian terrain as undisturbed as possible. Errant Earth germs would also render useless the instruments placed on exploration rovers to look for signs of life, as the life that they registered would be life that came with them from Earth.

As NASA's lead center for creating robotic spacecraft and rovers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) builds smart machines that can perform very complicated task far, far away from the homeland.

Responding to a congressional concern about aviation safety, NASA's Ames Research Center created the Ames Fatigue/Jet Lag Program in 1980 to examine the extent to which fatigue, sleep loss, and circadian disruption affect pilot performance. The program’s primary research was conducted in field settings, as well as in a variety of aviation, controlled laboratory, and full-mission flight-simulation environments, to study fatigue factors and circadian disruption in short-haul, long-haul, military, cargo, and helicopter operations.

In preparing to send man to the Moon in the 1960s, no detail was too small for NASA to consider when it came to ensuring that humans and their transporting spacecraft could withstand the powerful thrust of a launch, the harsh and unforgiving conditions of space, and the extremely high temperatures of reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. When a tragic launch pad flash fire occurred during a routine preflight test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft at Cape Kennedy (renamed Cape Canaveral in 1974), NASA put into action major design and engineering modifications for the Moon-shooting spacecraft, plus revisions to test planning, test discipline, manufacturing processes and procedures, and quality control.

Water is indispensable for human health and well-being. A person cannot live for more than a few days without clean, drinkable water. It is, therefore, one of the most crucial provisions astronauts need to live and work in space, whether orbiting Earth, working at a lunar base, or traveling to Mars.

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