NASA Spinoff

NASA does things that have never been done before—sending spacecraft to other planets, sending people to the Moon, and exploring the limits of the universe. To accomplish these scientific missions, engineers at work within the Space Agency build machines and equipment that have never been made before—rockets that can send advanced instruments across the solar system, giant telescopes that watch the stars from space, and spacecraft that can keep astronauts safe from the perils of space flight. To do these never-before-done deeds with these never-before-made materials, NASA often needs to start at the basics and create its own textiles and materials. The engineers and materials specialists at the Space Agency are, therefore, among the best in the world.

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.

For over 5 years, people have been living and working in space on the International Space Station (ISS), a state-of-the-art laboratory complex orbiting high above the Earth. Offering a large, sustained microgravity environment that cannot be duplicated on Earth, the ISS furthers humankind’s knowledge of science and how the body functions for extended periods of time in space—all of which will prove vital on long-duration missions to Mars.

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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