|NASA TECHNOLOGY SPINOFFS:
Bringing Space Down to Earth
From NASA/JSC Office of Public Affairs:
Do you feel like an astronaut when you go to the grocery store?
How about when you set your watch?
The next time you reset the smoke detector in your home, take
a minute to imagine it as part of your own spacecraft's
caution and warning system. Because before they saved lives on
Earth, that's where smoke detectors were found
on spacecraft designed and built by NASA.
Although NASA's most visible achievements have taken place
in space, the technologies that put men on the moon, launched
space shuttles and will build a space station have found their
way into everyday life on Earth.
These common secondary uses, called space spinoffs, have continuously
enhanced the lifestyle of Americans and strengthened the U.S.
economy since the 1950s.
The technologies that led to the computer bar codes in retail
stores, quartz timing crystals and household smoke detectors were
originally developed for NASA.
NASA technology has provided many benefits to the medical field.
The pacemakers used to treat cardiac patients as well as the remote
monitoring devices for intensive care patients were derived from
the telemetry systems that first monitored astronauts and spacecraft.
Much of the portable medical equipment carried aboard ambulances
has its roots in NASA's needs for such portable equipment
These are but a few of the more than 30,000 secondary applications
of space technology providing daily benefits in Earth-bound hospitals,
offices and homes.
In the past, such spinoffs often happened by chance a
coincidence when practical uses of new technologies were found.
NASA is now seeking to make the spinoff a part of the product itself.
Working jointly with private industry to develop technologies
that have a use in space and on Earth lessens the cost of development
for NASA, and, ultimately, the taxpayer.
Technologies developed for NASA to meet the challenges of space
exploration have found more than 30,000 secondary commercial uses
in products ranging from tennis shoes to medical equipment, bar
codes, pacemakers and sunglasses.
NASA's use of aluminized materials to serve
as insulation for satellites and spacecraft helped lead to a revolution
in reflective insulating materials ranging from survival blankets
to wraps for water heaters to new types of interior home insulation.
Extremely strong fire-retarding materials that were developed
for use in the pure-oxygen air of early spacecraft have led to
a host of cloths, such as Beta Glass, used in fireproof clothing,
accessories and firefighter's suits. Other spacecraft materials
have included teflon-coated fibers with extremely light weight
but great strength that have been used as roofing material for
such structures as the Detroit Silverdome and the Jedda, Saudi
Composite materials, a mix of fibers and resins
designed to provide great strength yet remain very light weight,
have been synonymous with all aerospace applications from airplanes
to NASA spacecraft and have advanced into lightweight, strong
materials for helmets, tennis rackets and other sporting goods.
NASA spawned further development of memory metals, metals that remember their former
shape when bent, in its early space station studies and advanced
forms of the materials are now used in common flexible metal eyeglass
frames. Other glasses benefit from scratch-resistant coatings
originally developed as a protective coating for delicate spacecraft
parts. In footwear, a shock-absorbing spacerÓ
technique originally developed for the boots of moonwalking astronauts
has given birth to an entire new family of shock-absorbing tennis
shoes and other athletic shoes.
The smoke detectors now required by law to
be placed in all homes and universally credited with saving countless
lives are an end result of a technology originally developed for
NASA's early 1970s Skylab spacecraft. Quartz timing crystals
which have led to the current status quo in wristwatches and small
clocks were first developed for NASA as a highly accurate, lightweight
and durable timing device for the lunar-bound Apollo spacecraft.
On the moon, astronauts used specially developed portable, battery-powered
electric tools to drill into the surface and take samples of the
crust, tools that were the direct predecessor of today's
cordless screwdrivers, drills and other rechargeable power tools.
Common bar codes now used for pricing in supermarkets are an advancement
of technology originally developed for uses within NASA, such
as maintaining a highly accurate inventory of millions of spacecraft
A cell culture device developed as part of
space medicine research at JSC may allow scientists to better
test new treatments for cancer and viruses without risking harm
to patients. The rotating wall bioreactor, a cell culture device
that was developed as part of space medicine research at JSC,
mimics the effect weightlessness may have on cell cultures by
incorporating a rotating cylinder to hold the culture. With its
rotation, pressure points on the growing cells are relieved and
the device can grow three-dimensional, highly accurate tissues,
unlike previous culture growths which grew in two dimensions.
Already being commercialized by a small company in Houston, the
device has been used to grow more than 35 cell types and no cell
type yet tested has not grown well in the system. The bioreactor
may add a valuable new tool to the arsenal of medical research.
The study of how to grow plants in the most
inhospitable location yet visited by humans the moon
led to the development of a synthetic soil by JSC researchers
that holds promise as a revolutionary fertilizer and soil on Earth.
The zeolite soil mix takes advantage of the natural properties
of a common mineral called zeolite in storing and time-releasing nutrients.
A JSC-developed additive is mixed with
the specially prepared zeolite to create a soil that in laboratory
testing has produced conditions almost comparable to the fertility
provided by hydroponics, a well-known technology that uses water
to provide plants with a precise nutrient mixture. However, unlike
hydroponics, the zeolite soil does not require massive pumps and
pipes. The zeolite mixture already is being commercialized by
two U.S. companies and may provide a valuable new fertilizer that,
due to its time-release properties, avoids runoff pollution, a
common symptom of current agricultural fertilizers, as well as
providing high fertility.
Implantable Heart Pump
NASA's expertise in tiny
yet highly reliable pumps may provide an alternative to the large,
external heart pumps used by patients awaiting a heart transplant.
JSC has combined forces with the Baylor College of Medicine and
famed heart surgeon Dr. Michael Debakey to make use of the center's
expertise in developing the Ventricular Assist Device. The new
generation of heart pump already is undergoing implant tests in
animals and, if they continue to go well, a first human implant
may come soon. The pump would allow critical heart patients a
much more convenient alternative to the heart pumps currently
Use the text-searchable database of
NASA spinoff technology or the
NASA Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization
for more information about specific programs.
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- Research and Development links
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