Most of us cannot comprehend the task of building something to withstand temperatures over 4,000 °F, but NASA can. The space shuttles endured such temperatures when returning to Earth’s atmosphere because of aerodynamic heating, or heating due to the combination of compression and surface friction from Earth’s atmosphere. For the vehicle to survive these conditions, NASA constructed a complex thermal protection system (TPS) for the exterior of the shuttle.
The TPS consisted of various materials to radiate surface heat and inhibit any trace of heat from seeping inside the vehicle. The type of material used for the TPS depended on where it was placed. For example, reinforced carbon-carbon was used on the areas that got the hottest, such as on the wing leading edges and nose cap; felt reusable surface insulation protected the areas where temperatures would remain below 700 °F.
Following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003, NASA began developing materials and techniques for the inspection and repair of the TPS, should it be damaged during flight. Dr. Scott Parazynski, a five-time NASA astronaut, was designated the Astronaut Office lead for space shuttle TPS inspection and repair. “We figured out different inspection procedures to make sure nothing happened to the TPS,” says Parazynski. “If it did, we had a series of repairs based on where the damage was located. We developed a suite of different tools and materials, and we developed confidence in them based on different test environments.”
In 2009, Parazynski retired from NASA and met an entrepreneur with an idea for a product incorporating concepts from the shuttle’s TPS inspection and repair. Christopher Shiver wanted to build an enclosure to protect priceless and irreplaceable personal items like keepsakes and photos in the event of a fire or flood. Years before, a flood inundated his own home, and while Shiver’s pictures and heirlooms remained safe, he wanted to ensure they would never be at risk again.
After meeting Parazynski, Shiver shared his ideas about a fire-, heat-, and water-proof enclosure to protect priceless personal belongings. Parazynski then contacted other experts on heat transfer prevention materials, and by 2011, Shiver and Parazynski collaborated with Clark Thompson, an engineer who had worked with Parazynski at NASA. The three agreed to partner as co-owners of a company that Shiver founded just years before: Houston-based DreamSaver Enterprises LLC.
Parazynski says he and Clark borrowed some general concepts from their work in the space program and leveraged them for a commercial product. DreamSaver became the first company in the Houston Technology Center (HTC)/Johnson Space Center Incubator Program, and soon graduated to the HTC Acceleration Program and became a resident of the HTC/Johnson campus, part of the Johnson Acceleration Center.
DreamSaver’s Home Protection System, available for purchase online, is a footlocker-sized box with lightweight, low-cost thermal protection. It’s sealable and waterproof, made from the insulation technology developed by DreamSaver, and has been tested to 3,400 °F. According to the company, the product can withstand 98 percent of residential fires and 99 percent of water disasters. The product is significantly different from a fireproof safe, which can get up to 300–400 °F inside, is made out of concrete and metal, and is relatively small. The box stops the transfer of heat long enough for the fire to burn out or to be extinguished.
The company plans to make the product in the United States, and possible options include everything from cedar, to floral prints, to the colors of a favorite sports team. The company is also considering a cushion for the top of the box so it can function like a bench.
Ultimately, the company plans to offer multiple sizes of the product with various functions and features, such as a GPS chip on the inside.