NASA Spinoff

Space is a hostile environment where astronauts combat extreme temperatures, dangerous radiation, and a near-breathless vacuum. Life support in these unforgiving circumstances is crucial and complex, and failure is not an option for the devices meant to keep astronauts safe in an environment that presents constant opposition. A space suit must meet stringent requirements for life support. The suit has to be made of durable material to withstand the impact of space debris and protect against radiation. It must provide essential oxygen, pressure, heating, and cooling while retaining mobility and dexterity. It is not a simple article of clothing but rather a complex modern armor that the space explorers must don if they are to continue exploring the heavens.

NASA has long been known for having developed the thin, shiny reflective material used to insulate everything from the Hubble Space Telescope to hikers, from the Mars rovers to marathon runners, from computers to campers, from satellites to sun shields, and from rockets to residences. It is one of the simplest, yet most versatile spinoffs to come out of the Agency.

When the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) entered the Red Planet's atmosphere in March 2006, it joined the ranks of other noble explorers studying the planet over the past 2,000-plus years. This new NASA orbiter will study the Martian atmosphere and surface, and probe underground in search of past and present water, making it one of the most advanced studies of the planet to date. People have been aware of the existence of Mars and in awe of its presence for centuries, ever since early humans noticed that it did not shimmer like the surrounding stars.

While fashion styles are known to come and go, a certain 'shade' from the past has proved otherwise.

NASA does things that have never been done before—sending spacecraft to other planets, sending people to the Moon, and exploring the limits of the universe. To accomplish these scientific missions, engineers at work within the Space Agency build machines and equipment that have never been made before—rockets that can send advanced instruments across the solar system, giant telescopes that watch the stars from space, and spacecraft that can keep astronauts safe from the perils of space flight. To do these never-before-done deeds with these never-before-made materials, NASA often needs to start at the basics and create its own textiles and materials. The engineers and materials specialists at the Space Agency are, therefore, among the best in the world.

NASA has always been on the cutting edge of aviation safety research, though many of the technologies the Agency develops also find practical application in ground transportation safety. One of the most prominent examples of this type of technology transfer is the grooved pavement developed by NASA in the early 1970s. While researching runway conditions, NASA scientists discovered that cutting narrow grooves into the surface of runways allowed rainwater to flow off of the tarmac, decreasing the troubles associated with wet, slick runways, including slipping, hydroplaning, poor handling, and reduced braking times.

For over 5 years, people have been living and working in space on the International Space Station (ISS), a state-of-the-art laboratory complex orbiting high above the Earth. Offering a large, sustained microgravity environment that cannot be duplicated on Earth, the ISS furthers humankind’s knowledge of science and how the body functions for extended periods of time in space—all of which will prove vital on long-duration missions to Mars.

Just before the space shuttle reaches orbit, its three main engines shut down so that it can achieve separation from the massive external tank that provided the fuel required for liftoff and ascent. In jettisoning the external tank—which is completely devoid of fuel at this point in the flight—the space shuttle fires a series of thrusters, separate from its main engines, that gives the orbiter the maneuvering ability necessary to safely steer clear of the descending tank and maintain its intended flight path. These thrusters make up the space shuttle’s Reaction Control System.

If "pulling the rug out from under" means suddenly withdrawing support and assistance, then NASA is pretty good at "putting the rug under" when it comes to offering technical support and assistance to private industry. In the case of a new X-ray fluorescence (XRF) sensor featuring enhancements compliments of NASA, the Space Agency not only provided the rug, but helped give private industry a means to ensure it keeps clean.

NASA Technology

When NASA researcher Stanford Hooker is in the field, he pays close attention to color. For Hooker, being in the field means being at sea. On one such research trip to the frigid waters of the Arctic, with a Coast Guard icebreaker looming nearby and the snow-crusted ice shelf a few feet away, Hooker leaned over the edge of his small boat and lowered a tethered device into the bright turquoise water—a new product devised by a NASA partner and enabled by a promising technology for oceanographers and atmospheric scientists alike.


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