7 Things You Didn’t Know Came from NASA Technology
Every year, we publish a round-up of 50 or so NASA innovations that can also be found in our daily lives here on Earth.
We call them spinoffs — technologies spun off from America’s space program — and this week the 2017 edition was published. Here are some of our favorite things we bet you didn’t know use space technology.
1.Crash Test Cameras
Parachutes are a key part of the landing system for many of our spacecraft, but before we send them into orbit — or beyond — we have to make sure that they’re going to work as designed. One important component of testing is a video that captures every millisecond as the chute opens, to see if it’s working and if not, what went wrong.
Integrated Design Tools built a camera for us that could do just that: rugged and compact, it can film up to 1,000 frames per second and back up all that data almost as fast. Now that same technology is being used to record crash tests, helping ensure that we’re all safer on the roads.
We often use laser-imaging technology, or lidar, on missions in outer space. Thanks to lidar, snow was discovered on Mars, and the technology will soon help us collect a sample from an asteroid to bring home to Earth.
To do all that, we’ve helped make smaller, more rugged, and more powerful lidar devices, which have proven useful here on Earth in a lot of ways, including for archaeologists. Lidar scans can strip away the trees and bushes to show the bare earth—offering clues to help find bones, fossils, and human artifacts hidden beneath the surface.
A screw is a screw, right? Or is it?
When we were building the Space Shuttle, we needed a screw that wouldn’t loosen during the intense vibrations of launch. An advanced screw threading called Spiralock, invented by the Holmes Tool Company and extensively tested at Goddard Space Flight Center, was the answer.
Now it’s being used in golf clubs, too. Cobra Puma Golf built a new driver with a spaceport door (designed to model the International Space Station observatory) that allows the final weight to be precisely calibrated by inserting a tungsten weight before the door is screwed on.
Neurosurgery tools need to be as precise as possible.
One important tool, bipolar forceps, uses electricity to cut and cauterize tissue. But electricity produces waste heat, and to avoid singeing healthy brain tissue, Thermacore Inc. used a technology we’ve been relying on since the early days of spaceflight: heat pipes. The company, which built its expertise in part through work it has done for us over more than 30 years, created a mini heat pipe for bipolar forceps.
The result means surgery is done more quickly, precisely — and most importantly, more safely.
The Ares 1 rocket, originally designed to launch crewed missions to the moon and ultimately Mars, had a dangerous vibration problem, and the usual solutions were way too bulky to work on a launch vehicle.
Our engineers came up with a brand new technology that used the liquid fuel already in the rocket to get rid of the vibrations. And, it turns out, it works just as well with any liquid—and not just on rockets.
An adapted version is already installed on a building in Brooklyn and could soon be keeping skyscrapers and bridges from being destroyed during earthquakes.
When excess fertilizer washes away into ground water it’s called nutrient runoff, and it’s a big problem for the environment. It’s also a problem for farmers, who are paying for fertilizer the plant never uses.
Ed Rosenthal, founder of a fertilizer company called Florikan, had an idea to fix both problems at once: coating the fertilizer in special polymers to control how quickly the nutrient dissolves in water, so the plant gets just the right amount at just the right time.
Our researchers helped him perfect the formula, and the award-winning fertilizer is now used around the world — and in space.
7. Cell Phone Cameras
The sensor that records your selfies was originally designed for something very different: space photography.
Eric Fossum, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, invented it in the 1990s, using technology called complementary metal-oxide semiconductors, or CMOS. The technology had been used for decades in computers, but Fossum was the first person to successfully adapt it for taking pictures.
As a bonus, he was able to integrate all the other electronics a camera needs onto the same computer chip, resulting in an ultra-compact, energy-efficient, and very reliable imager. Perfect for sending to Mars or, you know, snapping a pic of your meal.
To learn about NASA spinoffs, visit: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/index.html