NASA Spinoff

In the summer of 1998, the blockbuster action movie Armageddon captivated audiences with a thrilling doomsday plot about a meteor the size of Texas that was racing towards the Earth. Though the premise of the movie was purely fictional, the unfortunate reality is that near-Earth asteroids such as the one portrayed in the film do exist.

The ability to understand risks and have the right strategies in place when risky events occur is essential in the workplace. More and more organizations are being confronted with concerns over how to measure their risks or what kind of risks they can take when certain events transpire that could have a negative impact.

A superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) is a gadget used to measure extremely weak signals, specifically magnetic flux. It can detect subtle changes in energy, up to 100 billion times weaker than the electromagnetic energy required to move a compass needle. SQUIDs are used for a variety of testing procedures where extreme sensitivity is required and where the test instrument need not come into direct contact with the test subject.

In 1995, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) contracted Redmond, Washington-based Lucidoc Corporation, to design a technology infrastructure to automate the intersection between policy management and operations management with advanced software that automates document workflow, document status, and uniformity of document layout. JPL had very specific parameters for the software. It expected to store and catalog over 8,000 technical and procedural documents integrated with hundreds of processes. The project ended in 2000, but NASA still uses the resulting highly secure document management system, and Lucidoc has managed to help other organizations, large and small, with integrating document flow and operations management to ensure a compliance-ready culture.

A successful launching of NASA's Space Shuttle hinges heavily on the three Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) that power the orbiter. These critical components must be monitored in real time, with sensors, and compared against expected behaviors that could scrub a launch or, even worse, cause in- flight hazards.

Internet research can be compared to trying to drink from a firehose. Such a wealth of information is available that even the simplest inquiry can sometimes generate tens of thousands of leads, more information than most people can handle, and more burdensome than most can endure.

While NASA is preparing to send humans back to the Moon by 2020 and then eventually to Mars, the average person can explore the landscapes of these celestial bodies much sooner, without the risk and training and without even leaving the comfort of home.

Faster than most speedy computers. More powerful than its NASA data-processing predecessors. Able to leap large, mission-related computational problems in a single bound. Clearly, it’s neither a bird nor a plane, nor does it need to don a red cape, because it’s super in its own way. It’s Columbia, NASA’s newest supercomputer and one of the world’s most powerful production/processing units.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite navigation system developed and maintained by the U.S. Government. Though initially designed for military applications, GPS is also a public information service that protects the environment, improves productivity, and increases safety. It can be used as an instrument to map and survey boundaries; improve crop production; track storms and the spread of wildfires; and monitor any land movement and deformation of the Earth’s crust resulting from earthquake activity. It also offers navigational assistance for cars, airplanes, and boats. For example, cars equipped with GPS-based navigational systems can direct drivers to their intended destination points, steering them away from longer routes, traffic, and road construction, and preventing them from getting lost.

NASA missions are extremely complex and prone to sudden, catastrophic failure if equipment falters or if an unforeseen event occurs. For these reasons, NASA trains to expect the unexpected. It tests its equipment and systems in extreme conditions, and it develops risk-analysis tests to foresee any possible problems.

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