NASA Spinoff

Monitoring the health of a machine can be just as tricky as monitoring the health of a human. Like in the human body, a variety of subsystems must work together for a machine to function properly—and a problem in one area can affect the well-being of another. For example, high blood pressure can weaken the arteries throughout the body, and weakened arteries can lead to a stroke or kidney damage. Just as a physician may prescribe medication, a special diet, or a certain exercise routine to maintain the health of a person, NASA employs a systems health management approach to ensure the successful operation of its rockets, crew vehicles, and other complex systems.

For the last 25 years, the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division at Ames esearch Center has provided extremely fast supercomputing resources, not only for NASA missions, but for scientific discoveries made outside of NASA as well. The computing environment at NAS includes four powerful high-performance computer systems: Pleiades, Columbia, Schirra, and RTJones. The collective capability of these supercomputers is immense, and in 2010, Pleiades was rated as the sixth most powerful computer in the world, based on a measure of the computer’s rate of execution.

Using the Spitzer Space telescope, NASA scientists detected light from two Jupiter-sized extrasolar planets for the first time in 2005. Findings like these are enabled in part by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, which conducts scientific research enabled by access to space—such as Earth science, planetary science, heliophysics (the study of the Sun and its effects on Earth and the solar system), and astrophysics (the study of the universe and Earth-like planets).

To better understand and predict global climate, scientists look to the Earth’s oceans. Natural forces like wind, storms, and heat affect ocean surface and sea level, and these changes can shed light on short- and long-term global climate patterns.

On May 20, 1996, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor watched as a unique structure unfolded in space like a complex trick of origami. From the free-flying Spartan satellite the STS-77 crew had released from the shuttle’s cargo hold, a massive circular antenna inflated into shape. About the size of a tennis court, the Inflatable Antenna Experiment (IAE) was the first space structure of its kind, laying the foundation for future work on inflatable satellites, telescopes, and even astronaut dwellings.

Getting to the Moon is, to say the least, challenging. Being on the Moon, though, is no picnic either. In addition to the obvious life support and temperature control concerns, astronauts must contend with another obstacle: the Moon’s surface. This surface is covered with sharp, abrasive dust, lunar soil, and rock, called regolith, which can pose a variety of problems for astronauts and their equipment.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

For all the data gathered by the space shuttle while in orbit, NASA engineers are just as concerned about the information it generates on the ground. From the moment the shuttle’s wheels touch the runway to the break of its electrical umbilical cord at 0.4 seconds before its next launch, sensors feed streams of data about the status of the vehicle and its various systems to Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle crews. Even while the shuttle orbiter is refitted in Kennedy’s orbiter processing facility, engineers constantly monitor everything from power levels to the testing of the mechanical arm in the orbiter’s payload bay. On the launch pad and up until liftoff, the Launch Control Center, attached to the large Vehicle Assembly Building, screens all of the shuttle’s vital data. (Once the shuttle clears its launch tower, this responsibility shifts to Mission Control at Johnson Space Center, with Kennedy in a backup role.)

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Kennedy Space Center, just off the east coast of Florida on Merritt Island, has been the starting place of every human space flight in NASA’s history. It is where the first Americans left Earth during Project Mercury, the terrestrial departure point of the lunar-bound Apollo astronauts, as well as the last solid ground many astronauts step foot on before beginning their long stays aboard the International Space Station. It will also be the starting point for future NASA missions to the Moon and Mars and temporary host of the new Ares series rockets designed to take us there.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Three innovative software inventions from Ames Research Center (NETMARK, Program Management Tool, and Query-Based Document Management) are finding their way into NASA missions as well as industry applications.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

When we watch a space shuttle launch on television, we have only the vaguest sense of the extraordinary amount of work required to make such a complex operation successful. Even with the most highly trained engineers in the world, designing a space vehicle requires many thousands of hours of labor—and that is just in the early concept phases. With new partnerships and developments in software, however, a design task that formerly took 1,000 hours may take fewer than 100 hours.

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