Lightning Detector – A low-cost personal lightning detector offers a significant safety advantage to private flyers, boaters, golfers, and others. The detectors originated in space shuttle tests of an optical lightning detection technique that detects invisible intracloud lightning by sensing subtle changes in light presence.

Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has transformed our understanding of the universe with its clear, deep, and stunning imagery including unprecedented views of our solar system and remote galaxies formed 13 billion years ago. Commercial products as varied as semiconductor manufacturing, faster speedskating at the Olympics, and less painful medical procedures were all the result of technologies developed for Hubble.

Semiconductor Manufacturing – The semiconductor industry has benefited from the ultra-precise mirror technology that gives the HST its full optical vision and telescopic power. This technological contribution helped improve optics manufacturing in microlithography — a method for printing tiny circuitry. The system uses molecular films that absorb and scatter incoming light, enabling superior precision and, consequently, higher productivity and better performance. This translates into better-made and potentially less costly computer circuitry and semiconductors.

Ice Skate Sharpening – Speedskater Chris Witty raced her way to a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Witty and other American short- and long-track speedskaters used a blade-sharpening tool designed with principles used to create optics for the HST.

The Human Grasp Assist device (RoboGlove) was built by NASA and General Motors, and uses Robonaut 2 technology to increase the strength of a human's grasp. (NASA)

Medical Diagnostics – In 2004, the cutting-edge technology that enhances HST's images began helping physicians perform micro-invasive arthroscopic surgery with more accurate diagnoses. A NASA partner refined its micro-endoscope, a tool that enables surgeons to view what is happening inside the body on a screen, eliminating the need for a more invasive diagnostic procedure that could add time, money, and discomfort to a patient's treatment.

CCDs for Biopsies – Charge coupled devices (CCDs) used on the HST to convert light into electronic files have been adapted to improve imaging and optics on Earth. When existing CCD technology could not meet scientific requirements for Hubble's needs, NASA worked with an industry partner to develop a new, more advanced CCD. That partner then applied many of the NASA-driven enhancements to manufacture CCDs for digital mammography biopsy techniques, helping to image breast tissue more clearly and efficiently.

A multinational effort involving NASA and agencies in 15 countries, the International Space Station (ISS) is humanity's home in space and has captured the world's imagination since its first component launched into orbit in 1998. While the ISS provides invaluable information about living in space, everything from the station's construction to biological experiments conducted onboard have led to spinoffs that are improving life on Earth including fitness and medicine, purifying air and water, and enhancing safety.

Humanoid Robot – Robonaut — the first humanoid robot for space exploration — was designed to assist astronauts in tasks on the ISS. Spinoff technologies from Robonaut include a robotic glove (RoboGlove) that can help factory workers with grasping tasks and potentially minimize the risk of repetitive stress injuries, and the X1 robotic exoskeleton to assist people with physical disabilities.

NASA funded the development of an ethylene scrubber for the International Space Station that has subsequently proved capable of purifying air on Earth of all kinds of pathogens and particulates. (Akida Holdings LLC)

CMOS Sensors – The cameras astronauts use to take pictures of the Earth from the ISS feature the same technology as the smartphone you use for your selfies. In the 1990s, NASA built a new kind of sensor using a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS). It is small, requires very low power, and is highly efficient. CMOS technology enables cellphone cameras, high-definition video, and social media.

Telemedicine – An ISS experiment led to the development of medical ultrasound diagnostic techniques for longdistance use. Technology created to capture and transmit these ultrasound results over the Internet allows patients from professional athletes to mountain climbers to receive medical attention as soon as needed.

A prototype for a robotic planetary exploration vehicle was developed while building the Mars rovers. This work resulted in the creation of tough, highly mobile tactical robots for use by soldiers and first responders.

Resistance Exercise – Developed to help astronauts perform vital exercise during long stays on the ISS, stretching elastomer technology now serves as an effective source of resistance for workout machines on Earth, replicating the feel and results — but not the unwieldy bulk — of free weights.

Aeroponic Gardens – A soil-less plant-growth experiment that enabled plants to grow healthy without the use of pesticides has enabled the development of a commercial aeroponic system. The sterile environment allows plants to grow disease-free and with 98 percent less water and no pesticides.

Air Purifiers – NASA research into sustaining perishable foods for long-duration space missions resulted in the development of an air-cleaning device that eliminates airborne bacteria, mold, fungi, mycotoxins, viruses, volatile organic compounds, and odors.

Water Recycling – A water filtration system providing safe, affordable drinking water throughout the world is the result of NASA's Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System, a complex system of devices intended to sustain the astronauts living on the ISS.

Wound-Healing LEDs – Tiny light-emitting diode (LED) chips used to grow plants on the International Space Station are used for wound healing and chronic pain alleviation on Earth. They have been successfully applied in cases of pediatric brain tumors and the prevention of oral mucositis in bone marrow transplant patients.

Multilayer textiles created for the airbags that cushioned the landings of the Mars Pathfinder and rovers have enabled the creation of body armor for public safety officers and the military.

In 1997, NASA's Sojourner robot became the first rover to explore the surface of Mars. The challenges such an enterprise poses have necessitated new technologies that are not only bringing us closer to the Red Planet, but also improving life on Earth. Here are some examples of the remarkable spinoffs to emerge from these efforts.

Panoramic Cameras – Mars rover technology inspired the Gigapan robotic platform for consumer cameras. Using photographic stitching software, the platform automates the creation of digital panoramas containing incredible detail.

Anthrax Detector – Designed originally as a bacterial spore detection system for Mars-bound spacecraft, the technology in the Anthrax Smoke Detector tests airborne particles for weaponized anthrax. The device is being used at airports, office buildings, and post offices worldwide.

Publicly accessible geo-spatial views of cities are now created with the help of 3D datageneration software invented by NASA for imaging and navigation of the surface of Mars. The maps are used for municipal and commercial applications.

Rock and Mineral Analysis – NASA funded research into the next generation of scientific instruments for materials analysis for Mars rover missions. The resulting analyzer provides fast identification of rocks and minerals, useful for chemical, pharmaceutical, and forensics applications.

Voltage Sensors – Concern over static electricity damaging components on the Mars rovers led to the development of tiny sensors — small enough to be worn on clothing — for monitoring voltage changes near sensitive instruments, fuel operations, avionics, or anywhere a jolt of static electricity could prove harmful.

Cell Analysis Tools – Research into space-grown plants — a potential food supply for astronauts on a long mission to Mars — inspired the creation of technology for measuring thousands of cell traits at once, assisting in the evaluation of new drugs by providing critical information on how drugs affect specific cells.

Advanced Sensors – Powerful photode-tectors are necessary for laser communications — a way that Mars colonists might one day phone home. NASA supported the development of a small, energy-efficient sensor capable of detecting single photons that is now commercially available for multiple light sensing applications, such as night vision goggles.

Mapping Technology – Publicly accessible, geospatial views of cities are created with the help of 3D data-generation software invented by NASA for imaging and navigation of the surface of Mars. The 3D city maps are used for municipal and commercial applications.

Mars rover technology inspired the Gigapan robotic platform for consumer cameras that automates the creation of digital panoramas containing incredible detail.

Body Armor – Multilayer textiles that were created for the airbags that cushioned the landings of the Mars Pathfinder and Mars rovers have enabled the creation of body armor for public safety officers and the military that is more comfortable than traditional protective gear, yet comparable to rigid steel plates.

Military Robot – NASA expertise developed while building the Mars rovers has allowed for the creation of tough, highly mobile tactical robots with the ability to search dangerous or inaccessible areas, helping to keep soldiers and first responders out of harm's way.

For information on thousands more NASA-developed commercial technologies, visit Spinoff at here .

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2018 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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