NASA Spinoff

Two-dimensional data matrix symbols, which contain encoded letters and numbers, are permanently etched on items for identification. They can store up to 100 times more information than traditional bar codes. While the symbols provide several advantages over bar codes, once they are covered by paint they can no longer be read by optical scanners. Since most products are painted eventually, this presents a problem for industries relying on the symbols for identification and tracking.

From 1994 to 1996, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center conducted a Center Director's Discretionary Fund research effort to apply artificial intelligence technologies to the health management of plant equipment and space propulsion systems. Through this effort, NASA established a business relationship with Quality Monitoring and Control (QMC), of Kingwood, Texas, to provide hardware modeling and artificial intelligence tools. Very detailed and accurate Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) analysis and algorithms were jointly created, which identified several missing, critical instrumentation needs for adequately evaluating the engine health status. One of the missing instruments was a liquid oxygen (LOX) flow measurement. This instrument was missing since the original SSME included a LOX turbine flow meter that failed during a ground test, resulting in considerable damage for NASA. New balanced flow meter technology addresses this need with robust, safe, and accurate flow metering hardware.

Engineers are tasked with designing new systems every day to meet changing or unexpected technical requirements. After the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, NASA engineers embarked on a complete overhaul of many of their long-standing quality systems and procedures. When the official cause of the accident was determined to be an O-ring failure in the right Solid Rocket Booster, NASA's Shuttle Program initiated a thorough redesign of the rocket boosters clevis ends, which are the O-ring's mating surfaces.

Creating long-duration, high-powered lasers, for satellites, that can withstand the type of optical misalignment and damage dished out by the unforgiving environment of space, is work that is unique to NASA. It is complicated, specific work, where each step forward is into uncharted territory.

Scientists at NASA's Kennedy Space Center work in cleanrooms: laboratories with high degrees of cleanliness provided by strict control of particles such as dust, lint, or human skin. They are contaminant-free facilities, where the air is repeatedly filtered, and surfaces are smooth to prevent particles from getting lodged. Technicians working in these environments wear specially designed cleanroom bunny suits and booties over their street clothes, as well as gloves and face masks to avoid any contamination that may be imparted from the outside world. Even normal paper is not allowed in cleanrooms only cleanroom low-particulate paper. These are sensitive environments where precision work, like the production of silicon chips or hard disk drives, is performed.

Many people will be sad to see the Hubble Space Telescope go, as it was the first instrument of its kind to provide us with such a wealth of imagery and information about the galaxy. The telescope has served us well since its launch in spring of 1990, but it is nearly time for its retirement. The science, however, will continue, as NASA plans the launch of a new, more modern orbiting telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope.

The space-age materials that NASA employs in its spacecraft and satellites have different attributes than the building materials that can work for Earthly uses. These materials do not behave like the typical construction materials, and therefore, require new methods for construction.

By the end of the 1990s, the optical fiber backbone of the telecommunication and data-communication networks had evolved from megabits-per-second transmission rates to gigabits-per-second transmission rates. Despite this boom in bandwidth, however, users at the end nodes were still not being reached on a consistent basis. (An end node is any device that does not behave like a router or a managed hub or switch. Examples of end node objects are computers, printers, serial interface processor phones, and unmanaged hubs and switches.)

This story begins in the 1970s, when Dr. Joseph Heyman, a young scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, was asked to support the investigation of a wind tunnel accident at a sister center. Although the work was outside of his physics background, it sparked a research focus that guided his lengthy NASA career and would earn him a slew of accolades, including NASA's highest award medals for Exceptional Leadership, Exceptional Achievement, and Exceptional Service; the coveted Silver Snoopy Astronaut Award for Space Shuttle Return to Flight; and the Arthur Fleming Award for being one of the Top Ten Federal Scientists in Government Service. He won 30 additional NASA awards, including the Agency's Invention of the Year and the Agency's highest award for technology transfer, and was the only person to ever win 4 R&D 100 Awards.

Scientists at NASA's Glenn Research Center developed a high-temperature, solid lubricant coating material that is saving the manufacturing industry millions of dollars. The material came out of 3 decades of tribological research, work studying high-temperature friction, lubrication, and the wearing of interacting surfaces that are in relative motion. It was developed as a shaft coating deposited by thermal spraying to protect foil air bearings used in oil-free turbomachinery, like gas turbines, and is meant to be part of a larger project: an oil-free aircraft engine capable of operating at high temperatures with increased reliability, lowered weight, reduced maintenance requirements, and increased power.

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