NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has not only been working and excelling in the fields of space exploration and aeronautics but has also helped develop many commercial products and services. Technologies originally designed for space missions have been adapted for commercial daily use. Categorized as “spinoff technologies”, NASA is responsible for many discoveries ranging from artificial limbs, cordless tools, UV-blocking sunglasses, shoe insoles and golf clubs. Below are few blessings from the never ending list of offerings from NASA that changed our lives, for good.
15Digital image sensor
It was NASA JPL scientist Eric Fossum who wanted to miniaturize cameras for interplanetary missions. He invented CMOS image sensors, after reducing the signal noise, with a technique called intra-pixel charge transfer with correlated double sampling resulting in a better quality image that enabled use of cameras inside mobile phones. With extensive use in mobile phones and GoPro cameras, the digital image sensor has become NASA’s most ubiquitous spinoff technology.
In conjunction with NASA Advanced Ceramics Research, Ceradyne developed a kind of transparent ceramics called translucent polycrystalline alumina (TPA) to act as protection for infrared antennae on heat-seeking missile trackers.
13Structural Analysis Software
The NASA Structural Analysis Program (NASTRAN), one of the most successful NASA software programs, has been continuously involved in creating computer programs equipped to design, test, and analyze stress, vibration, and acoustical properties of aerospace parts and structures. Originally formed to cater to spacecraft design, it has designed many non-aerospace applications from Cadillac to roller-coasters. NASA’s Computer Software Management and Information Center (COSMIC) maintains a library of computer programs from NASA and other government agencies. NASA Structural Analysis Computer Software has been inducted into the Space Foundation Space Technology Hall of Fame in 1988.
12Improved mine safety
A NASA scientist’s invention of an ultrasonic bolt elongation monitor to test the tension and high-pressure loads on bolts and fasteners has continued to evolve over the past three decades. Luna Innovations along with the same scientist is now using a digital adaptation of the same device for destructive evaluation of railroad ties, groundwater analysis and radiation and as a medical tool to assess levels of internal swelling and pressure in affected patients.
Telecommunications has helped bring the world closer with the help of technologies ranging from telephone, radio to TV and internet. All thanks to the NASA satellites orbiting the Earth, even spying and research & development have become such easy tasks!
10NASA Visualization Explorer
NASA’s Visualization Explorer application delivers real-time satellite data, including movies and stills of Earth. This enables users to learn about subjects such as climate change, Earth’s dynamic systems and plant life on land and in oceans.
In the 20th century with NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology project, the knowledge and application of solar energy widened. Solar power became a viable and cost-saving option to create electricity and power machines.
8Infrared Ear Thermometers
NASA supported the Diatek Corporation through the Technology Affiliates Program in developing an aural thermometer to measure the thermal radiation emitted by the eardrum. This invention proved helpful as it permits rapid temperature measurement of newborn and incapacitated patients while also ruling out exposure to mucous membranes.
7Remote Controlled Ovens
NASA’s Embedded Web Technology software was designed for use by astronauts to be able to monitor and/or control a device remotely over the Internet. With NASA’s guidance, TMIO LLC developed an intelligent oven product named “Connect Io” that could be operated remotely.
NASA issued a small business innovation grant after initial experiments with light-emitting diodes in the space shuttle plant growth. This led to the development of a hand-held, high-intensity, LED unit developed by Quantum Devices Inc. that could be used to treat tumors once other treatment options are exhausted. This procedure was approved by the FDA and inducted into the Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2000.
Developed by NASA to improve crash protection for airline passengers, the high-energy absorption and softness of the padding not only provide superior protection in impacts but also comfort in long flights and in beds. Hence the extensive use in mattresses, pillows, military and civilian aircraft, cars and motorcycles.
4Enriched Baby Food
Thanks to NASA-sponsored research on bread mold as a recycling agent for long-duration space travel, commercial infant formulas became a household thing. The micro-algae food supplement found in over 90% of the infant formulas sold in the United States, and used across 65 other countries was inducted into the Space Foundation Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2009.
While planning for long-duration space missions, the concept of freeze drying was developed by NASA as a technique to retain 98% of the food’s nutritional value while weighing only 20% of the original weight. As per this, once the food is cooked, it is quickly frozen and then slowly heated in a vacuum chamber to remove all ice crystals formed in the freezing process. Food treated this way retains 98% of its nutritional value and weighs only 20% of its original weight.
Originally intended to sustain the astronauts living in the International Space Station and Moon and space missions, the water purification technology helps fight clean water problem, one of the biggest issues faced all across the globe. This system turns wastewater from respiration, sweat, and urine into clean, affordable drinkable water. NASA scientists are combining the benefits of chemical adsorption, ion exchange, and ultra-filtration processes to purify even heavily contaminated water found in many underdeveloped regions of the world.
In an era of constant oil spills, NASA’s microencapsulating technology safely isolates water from petroleum. It uses thousands of balls of beeswax with hollow centers to absorb the oil later carrying the contaminating chemical compounds in them back to the surface.
The tangible benefits of these everyday items contributed to the society by NASA are countless. Blessed are we to be living in an era of such great and endless discoveries and advancements.