NASA Spinoff

NASA has long been known for having developed the thin, shiny reflective material used to insulate everything from the Hubble Space Telescope to hikers, from the Mars rovers to marathon runners, from computers to campers, from satellites to sun shields, and from rockets to residences. It is one of the simplest, yet most versatile spinoffs to come out of the Agency.

When the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) entered the Red Planet's atmosphere in March 2006, it joined the ranks of other noble explorers studying the planet over the past 2,000-plus years. This new NASA orbiter will study the Martian atmosphere and surface, and probe underground in search of past and present water, making it one of the most advanced studies of the planet to date. People have been aware of the existence of Mars and in awe of its presence for centuries, ever since early humans noticed that it did not shimmer like the surrounding stars.

NASA has always been on the cutting edge of aviation safety research, though many of the technologies the Agency develops also find practical application in ground transportation safety. One of the most prominent examples of this type of technology transfer is the grooved pavement developed by NASA in the early 1970s. While researching runway conditions, NASA scientists discovered that cutting narrow grooves into the surface of runways allowed rainwater to flow off of the tarmac, decreasing the troubles associated with wet, slick runways, including slipping, hydroplaning, poor handling, and reduced braking times.

Just before the space shuttle reaches orbit, its three main engines shut down so that it can achieve separation from the massive external tank that provided the fuel required for liftoff and ascent. In jettisoning the external tank—which is completely devoid of fuel at this point in the flight—the space shuttle fires a series of thrusters, separate from its main engines, that gives the orbiter the maneuvering ability necessary to safely steer clear of the descending tank and maintain its intended flight path. These thrusters make up the space shuttle’s Reaction Control System.

If “pulling the rug out from under” means suddenly withdrawing support and assistance, then NASA is pretty good at “putting the rug under” when it comes to offering technical support and assistance to private industry. In the case of a new X-ray fluorescence (XRF) sensor featuring enhancements compliments of NASA, the Space Agency not only provided the rug, but helped give private industry a means to ensure it keeps clean.

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