NASA Spinoff

While gravity has its advantages in keeping us balanced and grounded here on Earth, scientists often find that they are at a disadvantage when trying to conduct research under its powerful, pulling influence. In these instances, the scientists prefer performing their studies in the weightless atmosphere of microgravity, where gravity is greatly reduced and solids, liquids, and gases behave differently.

While gravity has its advantages in keeping us balanced and grounded here on Earth, scientists often find that they are at a disadvantage when trying to conduct research under its powerful, pulling influence. In these instances, the scientists prefer performing their studies in the weightless atmosphere of microgravity, where gravity is greatly reduced and solids, liquids, and gases behave differently.

Technology and medicine forged a bond in 1986 when a group of dedicated NASA scientists, University of Southern California (USC) medical professors, and a Dutch cardiologist joined forces to prevent heart attacks, using ultrasound images of astronauts blood-flow patterns and the supercomputer depended upon to orchestrate the Star Wars Strategic Defense Initiative.

Four years ago, Argonide Corporation, a company focused on the research, production, and marketing of specialty nano materials, was seeking to develop applications for its NanoCeram fibers. Only 2 nanometers in diameter, these nano aluminum oxide fibers possessed unusual bio-adhesive properties. When formulated into a filter material, the electropositive fibers attracted and retained electronegative particles such as bacteria and viruses in water-based solutions. This technology caught the interest of NASA as a possible solution for improved water filtratration space cabins.

Throughout its existence, NASA has made many amazing discoveries in the field of optics that have led to improved eye care and eye wear applications on Earth. Innovations such as laser eye-tracking for LASIK vision-correction procedures, eye trackers that enable people with severe disabilities to communicate and control their environment using only their eye movements, and scratch-resistant and radiation-blocking lenses are just a taste of the Space Agency's optical accomplishments.

Honored as an inductee of the U.S. Space Foundation's Space Technology Hall of Fame and recognized by the American Astronautical Society as “one of the true fathers of the space suit, Bill Elkins spent years conducting extensive research on clothing technology for hostile environments while he served as a NASA contractor at Ames Research Center. During the Apollo era, Elkins assisted Ames investigators in the development of a liquid-cooled garment to protect astronauts from extreme temperatures on the Moon. The garment successfully maintained the astronauts body temperatures at a comfortable level by utilizing a battery-powered mini-pump to circulate chilled water through a network of tubes lining the garment.

With the Vision for Space Exploration calling for a sustained human presence in space, astronauts will need to grow plants, while in orbit, for nourishment that they will not receive from only consuming dehydrated foods. As a potential source of food for long-duration missions, space-grown plants could also give astronauts an important psychological boost, as fresh vegetables could serve as a welcomed change from monotonous meals consisting of reconstituted foods in plastic bags. Even more, these plants could likely aid in the recycling of air and wastewater on spacecraft.

Who's to say that a little light can't go a long way? Tiny light-emitting diode (LED) chips used to grow plants in space are lighting the way for cancer treatment, wound healing, and chronic pain alleviation on Earth.

To work in NASA’s Mission Control Center and share in the excitement of seeing the very first close-up images of Saturn being piped back to Earth (from the Pioneer 11 spacecraft in 1979) is not a sensation that most high school students get to experience. However, as part of an internship in NASA’s Space Biology Program , Mary M. Yang had the opportunity to do just that.

By mid-1963, American astronauts had visited space on six different occasions, all as part of NASA’s first human space flight program, the Mercury Program . During the final Mercury mission, launched on May 15, 1963, astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper logged 34 hours in orbit, the longest an American had spent in space to that point. Still, very little was known about the impact that space would have on humans and spacecraft that were subjected to long-duration missions. With this in mind, NASA decided to follow the Mercury Program with a new initiative called the Gemini Program.

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