BENEFITS of SPACE EXPLORATION

SPIN-OFFS

A “spin-off” is the useful application of a technology/technique that was originally developed to meet the needs of Space exploration or some other scientific enterprise.

SPINOFF INFORMATION

NASA offers a variety of Virtual Appearances as part of their overall outreach program. One topic offered is “How NASA Improves Our Quality of Life. Check it, and a variety of other VA topics at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/DUJwdHZRq7b!

See also:

https://spinoff.nasa.gov

https://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/background/facts/SpinoffsFromTheShuttleFS.html

https://homeandcity.nasa.gov

https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/new_interactive_website_homeandcity

https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/blog/nasa-spinoffs

https://technology.nasa.gov/page/spinoff-2020-shares-how-nasa-innova

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/benefits/index.html

https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/economics.html

https://spinoff.nasa.gov/pdf/AIAA%202011%20Quantifying%20Spinoff%20Benefits.pdf

https://www.nasa.gov/kidsclub/flash/games/level4/Spinoffs_Hidden_Pictures.html

NASA Office of Chief Technologist, Technology Transfer, and Spinoffs: https://www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/home/index.html

Even Wikipedia has a good resource for NASA spin-offs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spinoff_technologies

Check out NASA’s Spinoff Website here! And check out A+StW’s take on benefits here!

Safer Food for All of Us: Illnesses caused by packaged supermarket food have been greatly reduced in large part thanks to NASA. Mercury and most Gemini flights were too short to make food safety a huge issue, but going to the Moon required NASA to ensure that food taken aboard was free of pathogens. Even greater emphasis on food safety was required for long-duration ISS missions. NASA anticipated Apollo’s food protection needs and responded by creating the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. The Apollo Program Office issued a set of guidelines in 1963 that all program contractors would have to follow, emphasizing identifying and controlling all potential points of food contamination, demonstrating a plan for the prevention, control, or elimination of those hazards, and keeping meticulous records along the way. This supplants the older method of merely testing the final product. Pillsbury was one of the first to adopt what would be called HACCP, presenting their version to the industry in 1971. The FDA got on board with their version of HACCP as part of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act; it didn’t mention HACCP by name, calling it “Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls.” A Rose by any other Name…. Take Katy Larimer’s word for it, as she is Ocean Spray’s VP of R&D, “While the average consumer may not know what HACCP is, we know it’s enabling us to consistently put out safe, quality product.” Would the food industry and/or the FDA come up with such a system on their own? Probably. Bet we got the benefits of HACCP sooner and better than we would have otherwise. For more information on HACCP, see: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/moon-landing-food-safety.

Another example of NASA’s interest in food security is the National Space Counsel’s white paper released on December 1, 2023, entitled, “Enhancing Agricultural Resilience, Scalable Sustainability, and Ensuring Food Security through Space-based Earth Observation. As only NASA can!

“Five Mars Rover Technologies That Could Be in Your Next Car” is the title of a piece in Forbes.com; see it here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2021/02/18/five-mars-rover-technologies-that-could-be-in-your-next-car/?sh=140b36554cd3 Spoiler Alert! They are: Artificial Intelligence, Doppler LIDAR, Unbreakable Tires, Lubricant that actually repairs engine damage, and Flying Cars. OK, they’re not talking George Jetson here, but are reflecting on the big step forward represented by the technology that enabled the flight of the Ingenuity.

Not all Spinoffs are Technological!  We often think of NASA spinoffs as finding a new (commercial) use for some material, device, or other Thing that had originally be developed for NASA. However, not all of the very important spinoff benefits are things. A really good example of this is NASA SP-4102: Managing NASA in the Apollo Era. After all, the development of the managerial processes needed to bring a huge project with tight safety, cost, time and other constraints to fruition successfully was one of the biggest and best spin-offs from the Apollo program! See: https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4102/contents.htm. An example of management, NASA Style, can be found here: https://www.nasa.gov/reference/jsc-program-management-execution. NASM DOCENTS: NASA management as a valuable additional by-product of the U.S. Space Program can be a good thing to include on your tours!

U.S. Space Foundation Technology Hall of Fame: Long-time recipients may remember that I have showcased the USSF Tech Hall of Fame items in the past in Air and Space this Week. I’m going back to do it again, especially since a number of inductees have been awarded since then. This week’s spotlight is onNtrifuge CellXpansion, inducted in 2011.

“For decades, medical researchers have taken advantage of the unique aspects of microgravity to develop or grow materials that cannot be made on Earth. … In the 1980s, NASA researchers studying this phenomenon had to halt their work when the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy grounded the Shuttle fleet, thus blocking access to the microgravity of space. As an alternate, they developed a device called the “rotating wall bioreactor” to grow human cells in simulated weightlessness. … This technology uses a rotating chamber to rapidly cultivate three-dimensional tissues that closely approximate those in the human body. On Earth, this technology provides a fast, affordable source of cells for therapy and research. In space, the output is even faster and more precise. In 2002, Regenetech, Inc., focused on modifications to the bioreactor to produce its own Intrifuge SystemTM so it could produce expanded cell tissues for specific research. … This technology promises help for a wide variety of conditions, including cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, skin ailments and orthopedic applications.”

Thanks, NASA, and to all involved!

NASA’s Spinoff 2024 is Out! “As NASA innovates for the benefit of all, what the agency develops for exploration has the potential to evolve into other technologies with broader use here on Earth. Many of those examples are highlighted in NASA’s annual Spinoff book including dozens of NASA-enabled medical innovations, as well other advancements in 3D printing, robots, and brake designs.

This year’s publication also features a section highlighting technologies developed at agency centers such as NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, that are available for use by various industries.” See it here: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Other Spinoff Resources!

Everyday Products from NASA: I ran across a 2018 blog entry from KSC that might be of interest to you; see: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/blog/nasa-spinoffs.

Space Exploration Benefits: Check out this analysis of the benefits of Space Exploration by Jerome Schnee of Rutgers University, circa 1980: https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/economics.html.. It provides dollar numbers for the benefits in a variety of areas, including meteorology. It’ll give you some numbers to cite if asked the “Why do we spend all that money in Space?” question we all get from time to time.

Global Navigation Satellite Systems: Where would we be without GPS systems, in our car, in our hand, etc.? Aviation Week has just published a timeline of the development of satellite-based navigation technology that resulted in the present GPS system. It’s a wonderful example of how NASA’s pioneering technology that allowed access to LEO enabled a system that benefits us all! Check it out at: https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/space/five-decades-global-navigation-satellite-system-development!

NASA Economic Impact Report Released: The Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois just released an extremely detailed assessment of the economic impact of NASA, its Moon to Mars campaign, and its investment in climate change research in three categories: direct contribution in terms of salaries and business activity, contracting activities within NASA’s supply chains, and the induced value of spending by NASA employees, contractors, and their supply chains. NASA’s total labor income is over $24B for FY 2021. The direct benefits alone are stupendous, and the report does not include intangibles like spin-offs, technology transfer, and education stimulus. The report runs 3260 pages, much of it an Appendix with a very detailed breakdown of benefits. Download your own copy here: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/nasa_fy21_economic_impact_report_full.pdf! For more on NASA Benefits, see last week’s Item of the Week, here.

Space Priorities Framework: The White House recently released its new SPF. It has two principal sections, one on how the United States benefits from Space activities, and the other on the guiding priorities as we look ahead. The priorities fall into two groups: “Maintaining a Robust and Responsible U.S. Space Enterprise” and “Preserving Space for Current and Future Generations.” The bullet points for the former are: “The United States will: Maintain its leadership in space exploration and space science; Advance the development and use of space-based Earth observation capabilities that support action on climate change; Foster a policy and regulatory environment that enables a competitive and burgeoning U.S. commercial space sector; Protect space-related critical infrastructure and strengthen the security of the U.S. space industrial base; Defend its national security interests from the growing scope and scale of space and counterspace threats; and Invest in the next generation.”

Allow me to quote that final bullet point in full. 

“Investing in STEM education is critical to continuing U.S. leadership into the next generation and preparing the nation’s STEM workforce to fuel the economy of the future. Our STEM ecosystem of public and private organizations will leverage space programs to educate our children as part of improving the scientific literacy of Americans and increasing diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in scientific and technological fields. The United States is a diverse and multicultural society, and its space activities and workforce must reflect this composition. Furthermore, space information will continue to be made more accessible, providing inspiration and access to the benefits of space to more people than ever before. This includes working with commercial space entities to leverage the growing space economy to support historically underserved and underrepresented communities so that the benefits of space can accrue to all Americans.”

See the full document: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/United-States-Space-Priorities-Framework-_-December-1-2021.pdf.

Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy has produced a policy paper entitled, “The Value of Space.” See: https://aerospace.org/paper/valueofspace

Semiconductor Manufacturing in Low-Earth Orbit for Terrestrial Use is the title of a recently-released white paper issued under the auspices of the Stanford University Workshop on Semiconductor Manufacturing in the Space Domain. Engineers have long recognized that microgravity conditions could be very beneficial in making semiconductor material. Experiments on the matter have taken place on the ISS and even before. The authors of the paper summarize previous work, the present capabilities of manufacture aboard the ISS, and their vision of LEO-based manufacture in the coming decades. Here is one of the key findings of the paper:

“The benefits of semiconductor manufacturing in LEO are clear. Earth’s gravitational forces pose substantial barriers to quick, high-yield semiconductor production. Beyond the scientific benefits of microgravity, there are substantial practical benefits to incorporating LEO-based manufacturing into the supply chain. Transitioning this industry into space is the only path forward if the United States is to keep pace with the technological arms race unfolding across the globe.

You can find out more about the white paper and access a copy here: https://www.nasa.gov/general/the-benefits-of-semiconductor-manufacturing-in-low-earth-orbit-leo-for-terrestrial-use.

NASA and Agriculture: Satellites like the new GOES-T are used to support agriculture, resource exploration, land-use planning and other beneficial efforts. Toward that end, “NASA will participate in the 2022 Commodity Classic conference, America’s largest farmer-led, farmer-focused educational and agricultural experience. Agency representatives will discuss information, tools, and resources, drawn from the NASA’s Earth observation satellites and science research. Farmers and others regularly make decisions about water management, planting, and market decisions based on NASA data delivered by partner agencies and organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” For more information, see here.

Remote sensing data from orbit are not the only way NASA helps agriculture. Back when I was on the faculty of the University of North Dakota, the Space Studies division held a public discussion of the benefits of Space exploration and utilization. During the Q&A session, a gentleman in the back stood up. He was dressed for field work, and had an under-jaw beard; he was clearly a man of the land. It turned out he was a member of a nearby Hutterite colony, an agricultural commune group, socially conservative but willing to embrace technology that benefitted their community. Instead of a question, he said “I would like to thank NASA. I can tell you to the penny how much my community has benefitted from their technology. Two growing seasons ago, we installed a new irrigation system that used pump and plumbing technology originally developed for the Space Shuttle. The yield increase we realized in the two harvests since has more than paid for the system, and we are looking forward to increased income in the years ahead. Indeed, NASA, thank you very much.” He sat down to a round of applause. He was talking about the DLV and its related plumbing!

And don’t miss NASA’s Webby-nominated YouTube presentations called “Snacktime with NASA” about NASA’s contribution to agriculture; see here!

Thanks, NASA! 

Carbon Sequestration and Storage (CCS) is one of the tactics that may help lower anthropogenic climate change. It involves taking combustion-produced carbon dioxide, pressurizing it, and then pumping it deep underground, where it will remain entombed (hopefully). However, CCS technology is expensive, and frankly, there is some question as to how effective CCS efforts are.

Continuous monitoring sites where the CO2 is being injected is a crucial part of CCS, but is difficult and expensive. At least it was. 

Spin-offs of Space technology to other beneficial uses is not the sole province of NASA. In this case, the Japanese Space exploration program involved. A team of researchers from several Japanese universities developed the Portable Active Seismic Source (PASS), a lightweight system that would be carried aboard landers planned for the Moon and Mars. Japan is strongly interested in CCS technology, and scientists soon realized that PASS could be of great use in CCS monitoring efforts. For more info on PASS and CCS, see here.

Fire Resistant Airline Seats: The Apollo 1 fire in 1967 showed NASA that a number of materials it used in Space capsules were not only too flammable, they also produced toxic vapors when burned. The same problem has happened on a number of aviation crashes – the survivors of the crash itself perish from smoke inhalation or poisoning afterward. NASA immediately set out to find either substitutes for the identified materials or ways to make them less dangerous. The solution was a urethane foam surrounded by a special fire-blocking fabric. The FAA got involved, and over 600,000 airline seats were retrofitted. The change has resulted in an estimated saving of 25-30 lives per year.

Oil Spill Cleanup: NASA had developed a “microencapsulating” material that turned out to be effective in reducing the damage of oil spills in water. It’s called “Petroleum Remediation Product,” and it uses thousands of tiny, hollow-centered spheres of beeswax. Water cannot penetrate the spheres as they float on the surface, but oil sticks to them. Once the spheres are oil-laden, they can be swept up without further damage to the ecosystem. [PRP was also a USSF Tech Hall of Fame enshrinee.]

Food Safety: Long-duration spaceflight requires that food provided to the astronauts be absolutely free from disease-producing bacteria and toxins. NASA partnered with the Pillsbury Company to develop the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) for that purpose. The goal of HACCP is to prevent problems, not detect them after-the-fact. Today, the Food and Drug Administration uses HACCP guidelines for the handling of seafood, juice, diary, and other food, greatly improving public safety.

Better Tires: Parachute landing systems used by NASA to land the Viking spacecraft on Mars required stronger-than-steel shroud lines. NASA worked with Goodyear to develop a fibrous material that could do the job. Goodyear then incorporated the new fibers into their (formerly) steel-belted radial tires, greatly increasing the penetration resistance and their usable lifetimes.

Invisible Braces: NASA’s Advanced Ceramics Lab developed a ceramic material, Translucent Polycrystalline Alumina (TPA), to protect the IR antennae on heat-seeking missile trackers. TPA has now found a more peaceful use, as the material used to make “invisible” dental braces!

Ventricular Assist Device: NASA worked with Dr. Michael DeBakey and others in 2002 to apply NASA miniature pump technology to medicine. Patients waiting for a scarce donor heart could “bridge” to their transplant opportunity by using the battery-powered pump. The external batteries lasted for eight hours, and the pump was much smaller, hence easier for the patient to accommodate, than other options then available.

They Used to Put the Thermometer WHERE?! NASA’s biometric needs led to the development of an infrared thermometer that could take a patient’s temperature by inserting a probe gently into their ear. Diatek Corporation was supported by NASA’s Technology Affiliates Program in the development and improvement of this technology, which allows for rapid measurement without making contact with any mucous membranes. It’s ideal for newborns, those incapacitated, or any of us that can remember the former technique.

Practical Battery Powered Tools: Here’s a spinoff technology all home DIYers will appreciate! Collection of scientifically-valuable samples from the lunar surface by Apollo Moonwalkers required drilling into the lunar soil a considerable depth (~ 3 meters or so). A powerful drill with its own power supply was required. NASA Goddard partnered with Black & Decker to design a drill motor and battery capable of meeting the task (battery-powered drills already existed, but were weak and had limited endurance). Of course, if you can drill holes with a cordless high-power drill on the Moon, you can drill holes effectively here on Earth with the same technology. A trip to your local hardware store will convince you of the value of this spin-off! And it wasn’t just drilling holes that benefitted; the same approach was used for designing a powerful portable vacuum, to help manage the cleanup of lunar dust in the LM cabin. The civilian version of that was marketed as the “Dust Buster.” Cordless tools are now account for annual sales of hundreds of millions of dollars. The utility of such tools would have eventually led to their development, but NASA’s need stimulated the process, resulting in the product, and the associated jobs, coming much sooner than would have happened without NASA’s impetus. For more details, see here. Thanks, NASA!

Improved Mine Safety is another by-product of NASA-oriented research. NASA vehicles are subjected to rather harsh conditions, and the bolts and other parts that hold them together have to meet very exacting standards to be certified for use in Space. NASA developed equipment that uses ultrasound to monitor bolt elongation during engineering testing to ensure quality control in both design and fabrication. Another place where bolted structures must reliably endure high stresses and pressures is in underground mining. NASA’s bolt technology has been applied to those structures with great results. Even better, the engineering approach used to make the bolt analyzers has had much broader application, even in medical equipment that monitors internal swelling, intracranial pressure, etc. Thanks, NASA!

Mapping Critical Minerals from the Sky: This story isn’t strictly a “spin-off,” but it is an example of how aircraft can provide information on the location of minerals that are becoming increasingly-important to modern civilization, especially titanium, zirconium, and an assortment of rare-Earth elements (essential in batteries and electronics). Other countries have done a much better job than the U.S. in locating, “locking up,” and exploiting deposits of those resources. The United States has only one REE mine, Clark Mountain, California, and it is largely mined-out. But it turns out that the eastern coastal plain of the U.S. has extensive deposits of the above-named materials, in low-grade place (eroded sediments) deposits. The trouble is finding places where mining is economically and environmentally feasible.

Aircraft to the rescue! The U.S. Geological Survey has recently conducted a number of aerial surveys of the coastal plain using aircraft-borne magnetic-radiometric detectors. The fact that Ti, Zr, and REEs often occur is rocks containing small but detectable amounts of Uranium and Thorium, and in the sediments that erode from them. For more on this encouraging development, see the 11/2021 article in the Geological Society of America’s GSA Today magazine: https://www.geosociety.org/GSA/Publications/GSA_Today/GSA/GSAToday/science/G512A/abstract.aspx. See also this NASA press release: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-usgs-map-minerals-to-understand-earth-makeup-climate-change.

Follow up: I recently came across some shocking information that underscores the importance of finding minerals essential for modern technology. “A single lithium-ion EV battery pack (CNM532) contains ~8 kg of lithium, 35 kg of nickel, 20 kg of manganese, and 14 kg of cobalt.” Egad! These are not common things, and the demand for them is skyrocketing as we electrify our cars. And that assessment is for the battery only; one still needs a lot of steel, copper, and other materials derived from the Earth. Read about “Minerals Matter” at: https://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/presaddress/gsat21prsadrs/gsat21prsadrs.pdf?_zs=gE3Ob1&_zl=8G3C8.

NASA Tech Used to Improve Hip Replacements: MP1, a polymer originally created by NASA to be used in composites and adhesives used in aircraft that fly at sustained supersonic speeds has found a down-to-Earth use in an improved artificial hip joint. MP1’s value in medicine was not anticipated by its inventors, but a team from MMA Tech, an Israel-based company, say the potential, and the rest is hip history. Hooray!

Using the Moon to Address Digital Inequality: Sending astronauts back to the Moon poses significant communications challengers. Many Americans do not have reliable access to fast, wireless Internet, too. Might the solution to one inform the solution of the other? NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland recently partnered with the Greater Cleveland Partnership (an economic development organization) to explore ways NASA technology and tactics could help make high-speed Internet more readily available. It’s working! For more information about this type of real-time spin-off, see: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/glenn/2021/using-the-moon-to-address-earth-s-digital-inequality.