NASA Spinoff

NASA Technology

Helicopters present many advantages over fixed-wing aircraft: they can take off from and land in tight spots, they can move in any direction with relative ease, and they can hover in one area for extended periods of time. But that maneuverability comes with costs.

NASA Technology

After 10 months of traveling through deep space to Mars, the Phoenix Lander finally approached its destination. The last 7 minutes of the spacecraft’s 423 million-mile-journey—the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase—were the most critical and also the most difficult. In the history of Mars landing missions, only 5 of 13 attempts have succeeded. It would have been tragic for Phoenix to go so far yet fail to arrive safely.

NASA Technology

As NASA designs new spacecraft for its science missions and begins designs for the next generation of human spaceflight vehicles, it also works to revolutionize Earth’s airspace with safer, more efficient air vehicles. Throughout its research and development activities, NASA employs the best design tools available.

NASA Technology

Heinz Erzberger never thought the sky was falling, but he knew it could benefit from enhanced traffic control. Throughout the 1990s, Erzberger led a team at Ames Research Center to develop a suite of automated tools to reduce restrictions and improve the efficiency of air traffic control operations. Called CTAS, or Center-TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control) Automation System, the software won NASA’s Software of the Year award in 1998, and one of the tools in the suite—the traffic management advisor—was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration and implemented at traffic control centers across the United States. Another one of the tools, Direct-To, has followed a different path.

NASA Technology

“Flutter” may sound like a benign word when associated with a flag in a breeze, a butterfly, or seaweed in an ocean current. When used in the context of aerodynamics, however, it describes a highly dangerous, potentially deadly condition.

NASA Technology

In 1961, not long after NASA received the imperative from President John F. Kennedy to land a man on the Moon within the decade, then-NASA administrator James Webb posed a question to Charles Stark “Doc” Draper, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Instrumentation Lab. Webb wanted to know if it was possible to create a guidance system that could lead a man to the Moon and return him safely to Earth.

Try describing the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS), and you will inevitably end up rattling off a series of large numbers. There are more than 87,000 flights—commercial, general aviation, military, chartered, cargo—every day; about 5,000 flights in the air at any given moment; and more than 14,000 air traffic controllers working to manage the safety of all of these flights, including an average of 64 million takeoffs and landings a year (more than 7,000 every hour). In addition, there are more than 19,000 airports; 600 air traffic control facilities; more than 70,000 radar systems, communications relays, and other equipment; and thousands of technicians and safety inspectors. The NAS includes all of these components and others, like the 660 million passengers and 37 billion cargo-revenue tons of freight that crisscross the Nation every year. Even the weather is considered part of the NAS.

Given the eye-catching nature of space shuttle launches, deep-space imagery, and Mars exploration, it can be easy to forget NASA’s aeronautics efforts, which have a daily impact on life within the bounds of Earth’s atmosphere. Virtually every flying vehicle in operation today has benefited in some way from NASA advancements, and the helicopter is no exception. In fact, NASA’s involvement in rotorcraft research can be traced back to its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NACA was founded in 1915, less than a decade after the first successful piloted rotorcraft flight in 1907, and made a number of contributions to rotorcraft development—including a series of airfoils that are still employed in some modern vehicles.

In the late 1970s, general aviation (GA) in the United States was experiencing its heyday. In 1978, as many as 18,000 GA aircraft were produced. But only 15 years later, the industry was on the verge of collapse, with fewer than 1,000 aircraft produced in 1993.

From the myth of Icarus, who flew too close to the Sun on wings made of wax, to the designs Leonardo da Vinci drew of flying machines that mirrored the wing patterns of birds, people have always dreamed of personal flight. In 1903, on a cold December morning in North Carolina, the Wright brothers made the dream a reality with the first manned flight. It lasted only 12 seconds, but initiated a rapid evolution in aircraft design, and within a few years there was an aircraft industry.

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