NASA Spinoff

In order to better understand our solar system and the ways it supports life, scientists and researchers at NASA study the planets. Of course, one of the planets on which NASA focuses most of its research is the Blue Planet, Earth, since this is the only one currently known to support life; and it is also, for all practical purposes, the most accessible. These scientists and researchers know that one of the determining factors in the planet’s ability to support life is the same factor that makes the Blue Planet blue: water. Therefore, NASA researchers have a focused interest in understanding Earth’s oceans and their ability to continue sustaining life.

Soil, water, and light. According to prevailing dogma, these are the three main ingredients for growing and maintaining healthy plants. But what if you take soil completely out of the equation and limit the presence of water significantly? Can you still nurture plants in such an environment?

The Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker exporting millions of gallons of oil, ran aground just after midnight on March 24, 1989 in Alaska, creating what is, to this day, the worst environmental disaster in American history. The affected area of coastal Alaska continues to feel the toxic results of that disaster that killed more than 250,000 seabirds, thousands of marine mammals, and countless numbers of other coastal marine organisms in just its first months. Oil is notoriously difficult to clean from water, and it is still emerging from subsurface reservoirs. Salmon caught in that region are, even now, 16 years later, showing signs of long-term contamination from the devastating oil spill.

NASA Technology

If you wandered the halls of Johnson Space Center in the mid-1990s, you might have run across Mike Johnson lugging a large container of freshly collected urine down to the lab. There, Johnson assisted the scientists who were tasked with developing technology to convert the waste into drinking water. Johnson’s role earned him a unique nickname that follows him to this day—“the Pee Man.”

NASA Technology

The astronaut’s life and work is so different from our own daily experiences that it’s easy to forget that astronauts are people, too. Just like everyone else, astronauts have basic nutritional needs—such as five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day—in order to maintain optimal health. Here on Earth, it can be a challenge to incorporate the recommended amount of fruit and veggies into our diets—despite easy access to fresh produce. In space, it becomes even more difficult, as astronauts must take everything they need with them. And in the harsh conditions of space, many miles from medical assistance, proper nutrition takes on added importance.

NASA Technology

Before Curiosity came the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Before Spirit and Opportunity came Pathfinder and Sojourner. Before Pathfinder and Sojourner, the Mars Global Surveyor, and before the Mars Global Surveyor, the Viking landers. Over the years, a host of Mars missions and programs have built on one another, spurring technology advancements that have led to the impressive collection of Mars information and images that we have today.

NASA Technology

You wouldn’t find a big bowl of spaghetti served on the International Space Station (ISS). In microgravity, it would be a complete mess. There is, however, something like spaghetti on the ISS: the wires that connect electrodes for an electrocardiogram (EKG). They can be just as much of a nuisance for the crew members.

NASA Technology

One of the main components of NASA’s vision for the future of space exploration will actually have a keen eye for the past. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled to launch in 2018, will have spectacular sight—after it reaches orbit, one of its main goals is to observe the first galaxies that formed in the early universe.

NASA Technology

The future looks bright, light, and green—especially where aircraft are concerned. The division of NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program called the Subsonic Fixed Wing Project is aiming to reach new heights by 2025–2035, improving the efficiency and environmental impact of air travel by developing new capabilities for cleaner, quieter, and more fuel efficient aircraft.

NASA Technology

It was an unlikely moment for inspiration. Engineers David Wolf and Ray Schwarz stopped by their lab around midday. Wolf, of Johnson Space Center, and Schwarz, with NASA contractor Krug Life Sciences (now Wyle Laboratories Inc.), were part of a team tasked with developing a unique technology with the potential to enhance medical research. But that wasn’t the focus at the moment: The pair was rounding up colleagues interested in grabbing some lunch.

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