NASA Spinoff

Pattern-recognition technologies developed by NASA to identify spacecraft and other objects in space have helped in the development of new, biometrics-based security solutions on Earth that recognize individuals to grant access to protected facilities, equipment, or information.

A fiber-optic voltage sensor developed a decade ago for NASA's aircraft and space power systems has been the building block for a string of new sensor products offering safe, accurate detection and measurement for electrically noisy and hazardous environments.

Beginning with the Apollo Program in the early 1960s, the NASA White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) has supported every U.S. human exploration space flight program to date. Located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, WSTF is part of Johnson Space Center. The facility's primary mission is to provide the expertise and infrastructure to test and evaluate spacecraft materials, components, and rocket propulsion systems to enable the safe human exploration and utilization of space

Reinforced concrete structures such as bridges, parking decks, and balconies are designed to have a service life of over 50 years. All too often, however, many structures fall short of this goal, requiring expensive repairs and protection work earlier than anticipated. The corrosion of reinforced steel within the concrete infrastructure is a major cause for this premature deterioration. Such corrosion is a particularly dangerous problem for the facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Located near the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, Kennedy is based in one of the most corrosive-prone areas in the world.

A mineral identification tool that was developed for NASA's Mars Rover Technology Development program is now serving as a powerful tool for U.S. law enforcement agencies and military personnel to identify suspicious liquid and solid substances.

By studying fire through the science of combustion physics, scientists and researchers from NASA, academia, and private industry find new ways to improve fire safety and increase fuel efficiency. Since gravity's effect on fire masks many details that occur during the combustion process, scientists can gain a better understanding of fire by studying it in microgravity.

When NASA needed help better securing its communications with orbiting satellites, the Agency called on Western DataCom Co., Inc., to help develop a prototype Internet Protocol (IP) router.

Attempting to locate a malfunctioning wire in a complex bundle of wires or in a cable that is concealed behind a wall is as difficult as trying to find a needle in a haystack. The result of such an effort can also be costly, time-consuming, and frustrating, whether it is the tedious process of examining cable connections for the Space Shuttle or troubleshooting a cable television hookup. Furthermore, other maintenance restrictions can compound the effort required to locate and repair a particular wiring problem. For example, on the Space Shuttle, once a repair is completed, all systems that have a wire passing through any of the connectors that were disconnected during troubleshooting are affected and, therefore, must undergo retesting­—an arduous task that is completely unrelated to the original problem.

Contrary to popular misconception, lightning often strikes the same place twice. Certain conditions are just ripe for a bolt of electricity to come zapping down; and a lightning strike is powerful enough to do a lot of damage wherever it hits. NASA created the Accurate Location of Lightning Strikes technology to determine the ground strike point of lightning and prevent electrical damage in the immediate vicinity of the Space Shuttle launch pads at Kennedy Space Center.

Scientists at work in the Planetary Protection division at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) sterilize everything before blasting it to the Red Planet. They take great pains to ensure that all spacecraft are void of bacterial life, especially the microscopic bacteria that can live hundreds of years in their spore states. No one is quite sure what Earthly germs would do on Mars, but scientists agree that it is safest to keep the Martian terrain as undisturbed as possible. Errant Earth germs would also render useless the instruments placed on exploration rovers to look for signs of life, as the life that they registered would be life that came with them from Earth.


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