NASA Spinoff

Greek mythology tells of the inventor Daedalus using wings of his own fashioning to escape from imprisonment on the island of Crete. In 1988, a similar adventure was launched, though in this case carbon-fiber composites, gears, and driveshafts featured instead of wax and feathers.

Space exploration requires reliable and efficient communication technology. One device currently under development is the inflatable antenna. Due to several unique characteristics—it is lightweight, easy to deploy, inexpensive, and requires low storage volume—inflatable technology is especially well-suited for space applications. Without requiring mechanical actuators or human assembly, something the size of a suitcase could be inflated in space to the size of a basketball court.

The materials used to make airplanes and space shuttles do not last forever. That is why NASA frequently inspects launch vehicles, fuel tanks, crew habitats, and other components for structural damage. The timely and accurate detection of cracks or other damage can prevent failure, prolong service life, and ensure safety and reliability.

Smaller, with enhanced capabilities. Less expensive, while providing improved performance. Energy efficient, without sacrificing capabilities. Smaller, less expensive, and energy efficient—but still highly durable under some of the most extreme conditions known.

On January 16, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on mission STS-107. At T plus 82 seconds, with the orbiter rocketing upwards at 1,870 miles per hour, a briefcase-sized chunk of insulating foam broke off from the external fuel tank and struck Columbia’s left wing. During reentry on February 1, hot gasses entered the wing through the damaged area of the orbiter’s thermal protection system, causing devastating structural failure that led to the destruction of Columbia and the deaths of the seven crew members onboard.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are between 4 and 11 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States each year—caused by pathogens in public drinking water. The bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella have within the past few years contaminated spinach and tomato supplies, leading to nationwide health scares. Elsewhere, waterborne diseases are devastating populations in developing countries like Zimbabwe, where a cholera epidemic erupted in 2008 and claimed over 4,000 lives.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

NASA intends to return people to the Moon, but this time to stay. Future plans include living quarters, scientific laboratories, a permanent lunar community, and a training ground for a future mission to Mars. Ahead of these first 21st century boots on the Moon, though, the Space Agency needs to make sure a couple of things are in place, including one thing that most of us here on Earth have begun to accept as a necessary part of any human existence: the Internet.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The space shuttle is unique among spacecraft in that it glides back to Earth and lands like an airplane, usually touching ground near where it launched at Kennedy Space Center, but sometimes, in poor weather, gliding into the back-up landing site at Dryden Flight Research Center and then catching a ride back to the Cape on the back of a modified Boeing 747. Before NASA began flying the shuttle, though, astronauts had a longer, more involved trip back to base after a mission. Their capsule, called the command module, would plunge through the atmosphere before releasing a series of parachutes that would slow the craft enough for it to land on the water without too significant of an impact. Called a splashdown, this type of landing put the astronauts out in the ocean, where a specially designated U.S. Navy ship would then deploy a helicopter to retrieve the space travelers. Waiting for the rescue, the astronauts would release a highly visible marker dye into the water, then leave the command module and climb aboard a life raft.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Since its founding in 1958, NASA has pioneered the use of different frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum—including X-ray, microwave, and infrared wavelengths—to gather information about distant celestial bodies. During the 1962 Mariner 2 mission, NASA used microwave radiometers that operated in the range of 15–23 gigahertz (GHz) to assess the surface temperature of Venus and to determine the percentage of water vapor in its atmosphere.

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Special textiles have been mission-critical components for successful space missions since the early years of NASA’s first parachutes and space suits in the late 1950s. One of the Agency’s more recognizable uses for textiles, the Mars Pathfinder airbags, provided a cushioned, instrument-friendly landing in 1997. This same technology also successfully protected the Mars Exploration Rovers when they landed on the Red Planet in 2004.


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