NASA and Spinoff Technologies

When many people think about NASA, the first things that come to mind are most likely extraterrestrial missions, zero-gravity environments, and satellite images of our solar system’s planets.  Not as immediately apparent are ear thermometers, edible toothpaste, and improved athletic shoes.  These innovations are, however, inextricably linked to NASA as well.

The agency is responsible for the creation of each of those technologies and thousands of other “spinoffs”, defined by NASA as “commercially available products, services, or processes that take NASA-related technology and bring it to a broader audience.”  Such spinoffs can be found in a variety of locations, including the hospital (i.e. improved artificial limbs), the highway (i.e. safety grooving of concrete), and the household (i.e. memory foam mattresses).

As NASA continues its work in research and development, the list of its spinoffs continues to grow.  The 2010 edition of the NASA publication entitled “Spinoff” lists recent NASA spinoff technologies, including inflatable antennas, the Hilbert-Huang Transform (a signal processing technology), and nanoceramic materials that are being integrated into hairstyling tools.  Spinoffs are important to the manufacturing sector as well, especially spinoffs pertaining to robot technology.

However, it should be noted that the relationship between some new consumer technologies and NASA investments are harder to quantify.  The line from one product to another is often indirect.

Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., described the impact that NASA’s need for smaller, lighter electronics has had in the decreased size of technologies, noting that “miniaturization was an attractive area that NASA pushed very hard to make sure it could have more capability per square inch and pound flown into space.”

Posted by: Erica Pincus

Sources:  Innovation News Daily, MSNBC, NASA, NASA“Spinoff”

Photo Credit:  Helmet View from Astronaut Mike Fossum courtesy of flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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