NASA Spinoff

A revolutionary, low-calorie sugar is now available to the food and beverage market, offering an all-natural alternative to table sugar and artificial sweeteners. Tagatose, a sugar that appears in nature in small quantities, began its unusual journey to the commercial market nearly 30 years ago, when Dr. Gilbert V. Levin invented a life detection experiment to place aboard NASA's Mars Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers. The experiment involved using radiation-laced nutrients to determine the presence of microbial life in Martian soil samples.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Benjamin Dolgin of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed a concept for a high-damping graphite/viscoelastic material for the Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly referred to as Star Wars), as part of a space-based laser anti-missile program called Asterix. Dolgin drummed up this concept with the intention of stabilizing weapons launch platforms in space, where there is no solid ground to firmly support these structures. Without the inclusion of high-damping material, the orbital platforms were said to vibrate for 20 minutes after force was applied a rate deemed unacceptable by leaders of the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In the 1960s, NASA civil servant Tom Hughes worked for Marshall Space Flight Center's Quality Control Laboratory as a systems engineer. Reporting directly to Dr. Wernher von Braun, Marshall's first director, Hughes was assigned as a NASA representative for quality control at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, to oversee the Saturn V rocket project. During this time, Hughes invented several technologies to improve the safety of the rocket, earning several commendations from von Braun. He also gained technical expertise in microwave technology, as NASA researched it to determine its relationship to radar.

In 1988, NASA began working with private industry to develop thermally adaptive phase-change materials that could be applied to astronauts suits and gloves for better protection against the bitter cold and scorching heat encountered in space.

In the 1990s, NASA pioneered virtual reality research. The concept was present long before, but, prior to this, the technology did not exist to make a viable virtual reality system. Scientists had theories and ideas they knew that the concept had potential but the computers of the 1970s and 1980s were not fast enough, sensors were heavy and cumbersome, and people had difficulty blending fluidly with the machines. Scientists at Ames Research Center built upon the research of previous decades and put the necessary technology behind them, making the theories of virtual reality a reality.

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

On July 20, 1969, millions were glued to their television sets when NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong offered these famous words via live broadcast, upon becoming the first man to ever step foot on the Moon.

Every angler has his secrets, whether it be an old family recipe for stink bait, a midnight worm-hunting ritual, or the most coveted of all, the no-fail fishing hole. Most of these secrets are lore and legend, passed through generations, and coveted more than the family's best tableware. Each of these kernels of wisdom promises the fisherman a bite at the end of the line, but very few are rooted in fact and science.

In the mid-1950s, a young U.S. Air Force engineer named Clark Beck began work with what is now one of NASA's most prolific spinoffs, the radiant barrier technology. Beck's work involved creating materials that could withstand the immense heat created by passage through the Earth's atmosphere. He was working on structures and resources that could withstand the fluctuations in temperature created by a skip reentry, where a craft would skip along the surface of the atmosphere, gradually making inroads sufficient for reentry, a process that took the craft from extreme heat to frigid cold every few seconds. The material also needed to withstand millions of pounds of pressure per inch of bending without twisting, the simulated force of reentry. Without reflective material, the craft would get what Beck refers to as red hot wings, and without the required flexibility, the craft would break apart.

The most recognized and widely used NASA spinoff is at it again. Temper foam, whose origins date back to 1966 when it was developed to absorb shock and, thus, offer improved protection and comfort in NASA's airplane seats, has paid its dividends to Earth repeatedly, and in many different ways. It has padded the helmets of the Dallas Cowboys throughout the 1970s and 1980s, protected bedridden patients from bedsores, and comforted the feet of thousands wearing stylish shoes that incorporate the cushioning material in their insoles.

Piezoelectric materials convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and electrical energy into mechanical energy. They generate electrical charges in response to mechanical stress and generate mechanical displacement and/or force when subjected to an electric current.


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