Back in March, I covered some of my favorite spinoff NASA innovations in this post. There, you will read about Ventricular Assistance Devices, highway grooving, memory foam, and water purification.
It turns out that a number of readers of this blog are fans of NASA innovations and the impact they have had on our daily lives. These fans submitted their own favorite list of NASA spinoffs which I've listed below.
As background, NASA has long been a leader in innovative tech. During Apollo, electronic (non-invasive) heart monitors were developed that have since found their way to medical use in hospitals across the country. And who can forget Tang?
8 Additional NASA Innovations
1. LED Lights
Common in car brake lights, turn signals, and stop lights, LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology has seen significant advances due to work coming from NASA. NASA uses red LEDs in experiments with plant growth for food production in space. These red LEDs also provide the tech for a handheld medical device called the WARP 10.
The WARP 10 is used for minor aches and pains and even helps with arthritic pain. As the developers of the WARP 10 use information from market research, along with NASA's experimental data, they are finding more uses for similar LED technology. These include increasing blood flow to certain areas in a person's body, creating treatments for osteoporosis, relieving pain from bone marrow transplants, and even treating degenerative diseases like Parkinson's.
2. Infrared Ear Thermometers
Now common in most grocery store pharmacies, NASA thermometers have changed how we monitor our kids (and ourselves) for fever symptoms. The innovative teamwork of NASA and the Diatek Corporation created non-invasive fever monitoring in 1991.
Although this NASA tech spin-off has now become a normal part of our lives, it's still a great example of how NASA's culture of innovation achieves results. Advances in a product as common as a thermometer were quickly applied to other markets so that NASA's innovation continues to achieve results far beyond their initial intentions. Infrared thermometer technology has now become also useful for industrial and information technologies, as well.
3. Artificial Limbs
What do a Mars Rover and a human amputee have in common? The technology behind their movement.
NASA robotics research funds many market applications in robotics. This research creates robotic prosthetics with wide ranges of motion, control, and power delivery. Since a rover needs to carry its power source with it, it has limited battery reserves. Its robotic arms have to function as independently as possible. Likewise, a prosthetic limb has power reserves that are limited by a person's need for mobility.
4. De-Icing Systems
Spun off for commercial use in 2007, NASA funding and research teams played an integral part in creating the new Thermawing de-icing system. Thermawing uses technology originally developed for jets and even space shuttles and adapts it for small private aircraft.
This system requires no chemicals. Rather than expending a large amount of energy by heating the wings or using chemicals to lower the freezing point of the water, the de-icing system uses cutting edge electrical technology. The electrical currents prevent ice from forming, even when the engine is off. Innovative products like this demonstrate NASA's dedication to aviation safety. Not just a space technology anymore, these de-icing systems are some of the first that are specifically designed for single engine aircraft.
5. Freeze Dried Food
For the long Apollo missions, NASA needed nutritious, sealed, and light-weight food. They perfected the art of freeze-drying through continued research into the 90s. After the commercialization of the technology by Action Products, it is now used to help feed homebound individuals, to provide cheap and nutritious snack food, and also to feed soldiers while they are stationed in remote parts of the world. In addition to its many commercial applications, it is still used to feed present-day astronauts.
On the cutting edge of nanotechnology are NASA experiments in microencapsulation on the space station. “Microencapsulation” is the process of enclosing liquids or small particles with a coating to create tiny capsules on a micro metric scale (smaller than millimeters).
The low gravity environment on the space station makes for easier manufacturing and therefore fewer variables for experimental research than in the earth's full gravity. Experiments done in space enabled the creation of life-saving medical and environmental technology.
Microencapsulation delivers cancer-fighting drugs within a patient's body more safely than before. It also provides means to remove oil pollution from water. The innovative research done in the space stations and shuttles over the last 50 years has provided humanity with tremendous jumps forward in more earthly technology.
7. Bolt Tension Testing
NASA's innovation legacy often continues to benefit projects long after NASA itself has achieved its desired goals. There are few more potent examples of this than the ultrasonic bolt elongation monitor developed in 1978. The monitor's uses expanded from tension testing for bolts and cables to groundwater analysis. Recently, the technology used in the ultrasonic bolt elongation monitor has allowed us to create a non-invasive means for monitoring cranial swelling in medical patients. Innovations deriving from different uses of this technology span over 30 years already and continue to have a promising future.
8. Preemie Protection
Spacesuits are at the core of NASA's innovation story. The suits may look bulky, and they are: the extreme heat and cold that an astronaut faces on a spacewalk demand that the suits have incredible insulation. Traditionally, this has meant that the suits are very large. However, the huge amounts of insulation in the suits also put astronauts in danger of producing too much heat within the suit, which could cause them to suffer heat injuries (heat stroke, heat exhaustion, etc.). Solving that problem led NASA to creation phase changing fabrics that absorb and release heat more easily than water.
These fabrics, originally designed in the 1980s, were spun off into wearable tech for preemie babies in 2007. NASA's culture of innovation and public-private partnerships have solved one of the basic problems of infant health care: how to keep a child at a consistent temperature.
Furthermore, the company licensing NASA's fabrics donates a portion of the sale of every baby product, providing funding for medical incubators in the developing world. NASA may have funded this research to develop inexpensive insulation solutions for astronauts, but the resulting fabrics are now capable of so much more.
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