NASA Spinoff

NASA Technology

During launch countdown, at approximately T-7 seconds, the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) roar to life. When the controllers indicate normal operation, the solid rocket boosters ignite and the shuttle blasts off. Initially, the SSMEs throttle down to reduce stress during the period of maximum dynamic pressure, but soon after, they throttle up to propel the orbiter to 17,500 miles per hour. In just under 9 minutes, the three SSMEs burn over 1.6 million pounds of propellant, and temperatures inside the main combustion chamber reach 6,000 ˚F. To cool the engines, liquid hydrogen circulates through miles of tubing at -423 ˚F.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Try this: Print out a lower-case letter “o” in Times New Roman, 10-point font. Now hold the paper at arm’s length. Viewed from this distance, the area inside the “o” is approximately equal to the area observed in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Within that space—only one thirteen-millionth of the sky’s total area—Hubble revealed approximately 10,000 galaxies, each containing billions of stars. The observable universe as a whole contains some 80 billion galaxies and anywhere between 30 and 70 billion trillion stars.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

One morning in 1990, a group of Glenn Research Center (then Lewis Research Center) employees arrived to find their workspace upended by an apparent hurricane. Papers were scattered, lights blown out. All eyes turned to the door connecting the office to its neighbor: a 20-foot wind tunnel.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Water, an increasingly precious commodity on Earth, has always been priceless in space; but “priceless” is a figure of speech—water in space does have a price, and it is an expensive one. A single gallon of water costs over $83,000 to launch just into low-Earth orbit. Despite recent NASA innovations that allow astronauts to derive potable water from their own sweat and urine and technologies that may one day extract water from buried glaciers on Mars, the availability of water in space is not likely to exceed its necessity. This means methods for recycling and purifying water remain a top concern for the Space Program.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Launching the space shuttle involves an interesting paradox: While the temperatures inside the shuttle’s main engines climb higher than 6,000 °F— hot enough to boil iron—for fuel, the engines use liquid hydrogen, the second coldest liquid on Earth after liquid helium.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

NASA operates a series of Earth-observing satellites, which help scientists learn more about our home planet. Through partnerships with universities and other government agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Space Agency helps scientists around the world capture precise movements of the Earth’s crust to learn more about the underground processes related to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, create accurate assessments of wind resources for future energy use, and preserve endangered species by generating much-needed data about their environments. This work, done primarily from space with satellites using a variety of complex instruments to take readings of the surface below, generates leagues of valuable data that aid scientists on the ground—or in some cases—on the water.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

As a part of NASA’s active research of the Earth’s atmosphere, which has included missions such as the Atmospheric Laboratory of Applications and Science (ATLAS, launched in 1992) and the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS, launched on the Earth Probe satellite in 1996), the Agency also performs ground-based air pollution research. The ability to measure trace amounts of airborne pollutants precisely and quickly is important for determining natural patterns and human effects on global warming and air pollution, but until recent advances in field-grade spectroscopic instrumentation, this rapid, accurate data collection was limited and extremely difficult.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

A stunning red sunset or purple sunrise is an aesthetic treat with a scientific explanation: The colors are a direct result of the absorption or reflectance of solar radiation by atmospheric aerosols, minute particles (either solid or liquid) in the Earth’s atmosphere that occur both naturally and because of human activity. At the beginning or end of the day, the Sun’s rays travel farther through the atmosphere to reach an observer’s eyes and more green and yellow light is scattered, making the Sun appear red. Sunset and sunrise are especially colorful when the concentration of atmospheric particles is high. This ability of aerosols to absorb and reflect sunlight is not just pretty; it also determines the amount of radiation and heat that reaches the Earth’s surface, and can profoundly affect climate.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Whether for scientific inquiry, weather forecasting, or public safety, the world relies upon the data gathered by satellite remote sensing. Some of NASA’s most valuable work is in its remote sensing capabilities—the ability to retrieve data acquired at great distances—affording a height and scope not available from the ground. NASA satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) monitor ocean health by taking large-scale pictures of phytoplankton blooms and measuring surface temperatures; snap photographs of full hurricanes from above, teaching researchers about how these giant storms form; and capture images of cloud formation and air pollution, all allowing researchers to further develop understanding of the planet’s health. NASA remote sensing satellites also monitor shifts in the Earth’s crust, analyze wind patterns around the world to develop efficient wind energy, help people around the world recover from natural disasters, and monitor diminishing sea ice levels.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

In 1963, during the ninth orbit of the Faith 7 capsule, astronaut Gordon Cooper skipped his nap and took some photos of the Earth below using a Hasselblad camera. The sole flier on the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission, Cooper took 24 photos—never-before-seen images including the Tibetan plateau, the crinkled heights of the Himalayas, and the jagged coast of Burma. From his lofty perch over 100 miles above the Earth, Cooper noted villages, roads, rivers, and even, on occasion, individual houses.

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