NASA Spinoff

NASA Technology

An inch can make a world of difference. Which is why Garrett Finney moved the office coffee-maker into the full-size, cardboard mockup of the new trailer he was designing. The need for caffeine—and the threat of hot coffee accidentally dumped on a coworker—provided motivation and means for assessing the feasibility of a confined living space.

NASA Technology

The craftsmen in the Roman Empire who constructed the Lycurgus Cup 17 centuries ago probably didn’t think their artifact would survive for nearly 2,000 years as a prized possession. And they certainly couldn’t have known that the technology they used to make it would eventually become an important part of space exploration.

NASA Technology

“Life’s too short to wear average underwear,” says Mo Moorman, the director of public relations at Jockey International. By “average underwear,” Moorman means underwear without NASA technology in it.

NASA Technology

NASA’s twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, remain one of the Agency’s greatest achievements in exploration. On Earth, these robots are best known for their stunning pictures of the Martian landscape—images that, in addition to providing invaluable scientific data, have also given ordinary people an unprecedented look at the Red Planet.

NASA Technology

In June 2009, NASA launched Terra, the flagship of NASA’s Earth Observing System, which studies a sweeping set of the planet’s characteristics. Included in the satellite is the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). ASTER is a cooperative effort between NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, with the collaboration of scientific and industry organizations in both countries. The instrument provides the next generation in remote sensing imaging capabilities when compared to the older Landsat Thematic Mapper and Japan’s JERS-1 OPS scanner.

NASA Technology

What do you think the paper or computer screen you are looking at is made of? Are the shoes you are wearing really made of leather? Is the table nearby made of wood? How can you be sure? For most people, these questions may sound like useless speculation, because they are largely inconsequential to daily life. But knowing the precise chemical makeup of spacecraft components is a crucial part of quality control and can help ensure a successful mission. And learning that the paint on a canvass was produced using modern materials could be what prevents a museum from spending $10 million on a forgery.

Even though it drops to -279 °F at night and dips to -400 °F inside its deepest craters, the Moon can reach a scorching 260 °F during the day. The range of temperatures is extreme—in part because there is no substantial atmosphere on the Moon to insulate against the heat or cold. What the Moon does have are small amounts of gasses above its surface, sometimes called a lunar atmosphere or exosphere, that consist mostly of hydrogen and helium, along with some neon and argon.

On Earth, traces of an atmosphere extend as high as 370 miles above the surface. Made of 78-percent nitrogen and 21-percent oxygen, 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere consists of argon and other gasses—some of which help to trap heat from the Sun and create a greenhouse effect. Without this effect, Earth would probably be too cold for life to exist. Another helpful feature of the Earth’s atmosphere exists about 30 miles above the surface, where ultraviolet light from the Sun strikes oxygen molecules to create a gas called ozone. This ozone blocks harmful ultraviolet rays from reaching the Earth.

Dr. Dennis Morrison, a former scientist at Johnson Space Center, spent part of his 34-year career with NASA performing research on nanomaterials—materials 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. Specifically, Morrison’s research on nanoceramic materials started with the development of microcapsules, or tiny balloons the size of blood cells, designed to deliver cancer-fighting drugs by injection into solid tumors deep within the body.

Originally, these liquid-filled microballoons were made in low Earth orbit where the absence of gravity aided in the formation of the outer membrane. Eventually, these space-based experiments resulted in the development of a device that could make the drug-filled microcapsules on Earth.

Here on Earth, if your sink springs a leak, you can call in a plumber, or if you’re handy, you can head out to the local hardware store, buy a few replacement parts, and fix the problem yourself. If the leak isn’t particularly bad, you can even place a bucket under the sink to catch the dripping water and put the chore off until the weekend. These options aren’t exactly available to astronauts working on the International Space Station. They can’t call in a specialist to make repairs when problems occur, and they can’t run out to the hardware store for the exact parts needed for a repair. Plus, there isn’t much free time in an astronaut’s onboard schedule. Repairs need to be made as soon and as efficiently as possible. Toward that end, NASA funded the design of simple and reusable patch repair systems for servicing, maintaining, and repairing structural components in space without the need for heavy machinery or an expense of time.

Buzz Aldrin standing on the stark surface of the Moon. The towering gas pillars of the Eagle Nebula. The rocky, rust-colored expanses of Mars. Among NASA’s successes in space exploration have been the indelible images the Agency’s efforts have returned to Earth. From the Hubble Space Telescope to the Hasselblad cameras in the hands of Apollo astronauts, many of NASA’s missions involve technologies that deliver unprecedented views of our universe, providing fuel for scientific inquiry and the imagination.

Less known than Hubble’s galactic vistas or the Mars rovers’ panoramic landscapes is the impact NASA has had on the era of digital photography on Earth. While the first digital camera was built by Eastman Kodak in 1975, the first to actually develop the concept of the digital camera was Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer Eugene Lally, who in the 1960s described the use of mosaic photosensors to digitize light signals and produce still images. During the following decades, NASA continued the work of developing small, light, and robust image sensors practical for use in the extreme environment of space.

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