Human curiosity has always been drawn to the wonder and mystery of the heavens. Once only the province of imagination, answers to some of the mysteries of our universe are now taking shape. The reality we witness is stunning in its beauty and humbling in its complexity and expanse. In just a half-century we have left the protective cradle of our home planet Earth, walked on another celestial body, peered into the far reaches of our universe, and sent probes into the dark and vast region of interstellar space beyond the influence of the Sun—our home star. Our minds have always reached above the clouds, but only now do we have the tools and capabilities needed to learn what is out there and explore it ourselves.
These tools and capabilities of the space age—technologies for solving seemingly impossible challenges in the harsh and unforgiving environment of space—are essential for exploring the unknown. But that is not all they can be used for. NASA also seeks Earth-bound applications for those technologies, and works with industry, universities, and other agencies to put them to use improving our everyday lives in countless ways. Finding these alternative applications, or spinoffs, for NASA-derived technology is something NASA has been doing since it was created 50 years ago. More than 1,600 examples of transferring NASA technology for public benefit have been documented in NASA’s annual Spinoff publication since 1976. This year’s 50th anniversary edition of Spinoff features a historical review of some of NASA’s more notable spinoff successes, winning essays from an essay contest for middle-school kids describing how NASA technology affects their lives, and 50 new spinoff stories, in recognition of NASA’s 50 years. Drawn from around the country, with impact around the world, these impressive new examples of how NASA technologies provide broad public benefit span modern life and lifestyle. Just a few examples include:
Research into aerodynamics at NASA centers has been applied to improve the efficiency of tractor trailers and created a product that can improve the safety, stability, and fuel economy of numerous vehicles.
Exploration of Mars as well as space shuttle and space station missions produced revolutionary imaging technologies now being applied to generate 360-degree views of real estate and rental properties, unprecedented panoramas of far-flung destinations, and immersive views of metropolitan areas for infrastructure monitoring and navigation.
Technologies designed to test aircraft engine combustion chambers resulted in sensors now applied in deep well-drilling operations, where temperature and pressure increase with depth.
Helicopter handling and stability research, long a focus of NASA’s aeronautics program, has produced a stability augmentation system improving the safety of popular light helicopters often employed by police and news media.
NASA’s designs for cable-compliant joints, allowing full range of movement for rocket assemblies and robots, are now being used in a harness system for physical therapy to help people and horses recover from injuries.
We see in these technologies, and the more than 1,600 other products and processes profiled by Spinoff since 1976, the tangible benefits to our lives from the pursuit of sky and space. Public and private life, industry and environment, communication and transportation, healing and health, all have been profoundly affected by technologies and techniques spun off from five decades of reaching for the stars.
“Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” These memorable words from astronaut Neil Armstrong effectively summarize the drive behind NASA’s pursuit of inspiration, innovation, and discovery. NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program seeks partners in this endeavour. By working together, NASA, industry, academia, other government agencies, and the public can continue to push back new frontiers; increase understanding of our home planet, the universe, and our place in it; and provide broad public benefit from new applications of space-age technologies.
Aeronautics and space research continues to improve and revolutionize our lives with tangible and remarkable benefits for all. The legacy of public benefit from NASA technologies and the new examples highlighted here in Spinoff 2008 are the direct result of the U.S. Government’s vibrant civil space and aeronautics program, dedicated to active and productive collaboration with private industry and academia. May the next 50 years prove as exciting, enlightening, and rewarding as NASA’s first 50 years.