The space agency enjoys a wide and varied technology portfolio that is unlike any other in existence. Here at the Technology Transfer Program at NASA Headquarters, our task is to make sure these innovations get into the hands of companies and organizations that need them, bringing NASA technology down to Earth so that the public can benefit from its investment in space exploration.
To that end, the Technology Transfer Program took an unprecedented step in 2014, compiling more than 1,000 pieces of agency software in one place and making them publicly available at no cost. Software now comprises more than one-third of NASA’s technology portfolio, and the agency is dedicated to ensuring that these tools expand beyond their space and aeronautics applications to solve commercial challenges. At the same time, we have been increasing the rate of technology transfer to private organizations from our large patent portfolio, and we’ve made the process of acquiring NASA intellectual property faster than ever. You can learn more about these accomplishments in the “Spinoffs of Tomorrow” section (Go to page).
NASA’s range of successful technology transfer is as diverse as our many missions. In this year’s Spinoff, you will find 44 examples of NASA technology at work in everything from medical devices and consumer goods to the latest advances in manufacturing and transportation. Some of my favorites are:
In the 1960s and ’70s, a NASA aeronautics engineer almost single-handedly developed an airplane wing that operated more efficiently around the speed of sound than any existing wing design. The “supercritical” airfoil turned out to also be more efficient at subsonic speeds and has since become ubiquitous, saving airlines billions of dollars every year in fuel costs while also reducing engine emissions. That was just one of three major contributions the eccentric but brilliant Richard Whitcomb made to the world of aviation. (Go to page)
Collaboration between NASA researchers and a brain surgeon resulted in the first endoscope suitable for brain surgery that is capable of producing 3D video images, giving the operator a better understanding of his or her tight working space. It’s also the first device of its kind to be able to steer its lens back and forth, further enhancing visibility. This technology will likely find broad application across all kinds of surgery, improving safety, speeding patient recovery, and ultimately reducing medical costs. (Go to page)
Using NASA Landsat satellite and other remote sensing topographical data, a company developed an algorithm-based software program that can locate underground water sources. Working with NGOs and governments, the firm is helping to provide water for refugees and other people in drought-stricken regions such as Kenya, Sudan, and Afghanistan. (Go to page)
NASA aeronautics has been working for years with industry to improve aircraft fuel efficiency. Through collaboration with the agency, one company has developed a turbofan engine that is up to 16 percent more fuel-efficient than other models and up to 75 percent quieter. The technology is helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while saving airlines millions of dollars in fuel costs every year. (Go to page)
Each technology featured in Spinoff is a reminder that the vibrant culture of innovation and progress at NASA results in tangible benefits for the nation and world. Over the course of decades, this has meant thousands of new and improved products, tens of thousands of new jobs, billions of dollars in generated revenue, billions more in saved costs, and even thousands of lives saved. As we continue moving forward in an era when it’s easier than ever to share our knowledge, I am confident that there is much more to come.