On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on our Moon. “I think we are going to the Moon because it is in the nature of the human being to face challenges,” said Armstrong. “We are required to do these things, just as salmon swim upstream.” The innate human drive to confront difficulty and overcome the seemingly impossible drove development of the new tools and capabilities NASA needed to send humans to the Moon and return them safely to the Earth. This year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Apollo’s landmark achievement, and this edition of Spinoff recaps how Apollo continues to provide tangible benefits to the everyday lives of people in this country and around the world. The tools and capabilities needed for Apollo continue to serve many other purposes including safeguarding firefighters and soldiers, protecting the Alaskan pipeline, preserving nutrients in food while increasing shelf life, and simplifying kidney dialysis.
As with Apollo, NASA’s ongoing efforts to push frontiers in space and aeronautics—from the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope to the Mars rovers that continue to probe the Red Planet’s mysteries—continue to yield advanced technologies that are making a significant impact here on Earth. Since 1976, Spinoff has been documenting some of the best examples each year—more than 1,600 so far—of space technologies that, through productive partnerships with industry, entrepreneurs, universities, and research institutions have resulted in products and services that elevate health and public safety; augment industrial productivity, computer technology, and transportation; and enhance daily work and leisure. In this edition you will find these notable examples and more:
An insulating and sound-dampening structural foam originally designed for protecting the shuttle’s external tank is now being used in boat and shipbuilding and has earned the designation of NASA “Commercial Invention of the Year.”
Originally designed to monitor astronauts’ alertness while in orbit, NASA-funded “cognitive fitness” software for personal digital assistants has now been adapted into a Web-based job-readiness assessment tool for employers.
A tiny sensor, small enough to be worn on clothing, now monitors voltage changes near sensitive instruments, after being created to alert Agency workers of dangerous static buildup near fuel operations and avionics.
“We went to explore the Moon, and in fact discovered the Earth,” said Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan. One of Apollo’s legacies has been the increased awareness of the beauty and fragility of our home planet, inspired by such images as the famous “Earthrise” photograph, captured in 1968 by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders. NASA programs like the Earth Observing System continue to reveal new insights into the health of our planet and how its complex systems operate and interact. NASA’s field centers are promoting institutional sustainability by exploring renewable energy options, improving waste disposal, and employing “green” building design. This edition of Spinoff highlights how NASA’s efforts are contributing to the sustainability of our planet and its resources, with examples such as:
A protective fabric originally created for the space suits of the Apollo astronauts has resulted in a unique roofing material—architecturally practical, visually appealing, and energy efficient—that now adorns landmark buildings around the globe.
NASA’s remote sensing work—much of which focuses on the oceans and their health—has led to the development of satellite-communicating ocean buoys that help locate errant drift nets posing a hazard to coral reefs, sea turtles, and marine mammals.
A pattern recognition algorithm developed for star-mapping with the Hubble Space Telescope is helping to track endangered animals from polar bears to whale sharks.
A power model invented in the 1980s by a NASA engineer is still used today by wind turbine manufacturers to accurately predict airfoil performance at high wind speeds, enabling the advancement of wind energy as a practical, renewable power source.
At NASA, the pioneering spirit that Neil Armstrong described as natural to all humans is alive and well. While pushing frontiers is what drives us, we also seek out other applications of the advances we develop so that hospital patients, public servants, business leaders, athletes, homeowners, and countless others continue to benefit from the Nation’s investment in space and aeronautics.