NASA has a long history of transferring technologies from their original mission applications to secondary uses. For example, “Mars continues to be a rich destination for scientific discovery and exploration, and NASA’s missions there have inspired a variety of practical, terrestrial benefits,” NASA states on its NASA Spinoff YouTube page, which features “stories about some of these technologies, including shock absorbers used during space shuttle launches that are now being used to brace buildings during earthquakes, preventing damage and saving lives.”
Investments in the development of space and aeronautics technology, as well as in space-based research, have a long history of contributing to creation of new Earth-based products, jobs, businesses and industries. Here are just a few examples…
Technology Investments for Mars
NASA has published a short video entitled, NASA’s Space Technology Investments for Mars Benefitting Life on Earth, which provides a selection of highlights showcasing how NASA’s technology investments enable the nation to achieve its space exploration and discovery goals, as well as how these innovations “benefit the public here on earth.” As NASA observes, commercialization of NASA technologies has directly contributed to products and services in the fields of health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology and industrial productivity. As its engineers, scientists and technologists seek out “this era’s great destination” — Mars — NASA and its commercial partners are already working to create “a new wave of empowering technologies that will change life on Earth for the better.”
- Watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrUjTZWaDDE#t=61
Space Communications and Navigation
NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) activities are also contributing to creation of new businesses, products, jobs and industries here on Earth. For example,
- Ground-Based Inflatable Antenna: originally developed as a solar concentrator for power generation, this technology was licensed exclusively and transferred to GATR Technologies to develop the inflatable antenna and which has been used to support communication efforts in the Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ike.
- Radio Frequency (RF) Micro-Electromechanical Systems (MEMS): XCOM Wireless designed lightweight, radio frequency (RF) micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) that are used to improve satellite communication systems. The RF MEMS have the potential to outperform semiconductor technologies at increased speeds and less power.
- Multi-Mode Transceiver: General Dynamics Decision Systems’ Multi-Mode Transceiver brings the advantages of SCaN’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) to a variety of applications, including university satellite programs, small commercial Earth imaging programs, and Arctic and Antarctic science programs.
- Learn more: https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/scan/index.html
Space Station Research
NASA published a book in July 2015 that shows how research aboard the International Space Station helps to improve lives on Earth, while advancing NASA’s ambitious human exploration goals. Benefits for Humanity was released both online and in print at the fourth annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference. It highlights benefits in a number of key areas including human health, disaster relief and education programs to inspire future scientists, engineers and space explorers.
“People do not realize how much their lives today have been made better by the space station,” says Julie Robinson, NASA International Space Station chief scientist. “You would be surprised to know that station research has resulted in devices that can help control asthma and sensor systems that significantly improve our ability to monitor the Earth and respond to natural hazards and catastrophes, among many other discoveries.”
NASA Spinoff Program
When spinoff products began to emerge from space technologies, NASA considered the possibility of an annual report to present at congressional budget hearings. The result was a black and white “Technology Utilization Program Report,” published in 1973, followed by another one in 1974. The technologies in these reports created interest in the technology transfer concept, its successes, and its use as a public awareness tool. The reports generated such keen interest by the public that NASA decided to make them into an attractive publication. Thus, the first four-color edition of Spinoff was published in 1976.
Each year since, a new issue has highlighted the transfer of NASA technology to the private sector. The Agency distributes copies to politicians, economic decision makers, company CEOs, academics, professionals in technology transfer, the news media, and the general public.
The total number of stories published since 1976 is nearly 1,800, which does not include approximately 100 stories featured in the 1973 and 1974 reports.
- Watch video: Spinoff 2015
Of course, there are also intangibles, such as a better understanding the universe and how NASA’s research has inspired works of art and creativity.
“What sort of value can you place on better understanding the universe? Think of finding methane on Mars, or discovering an exoplanet, or constructing the International Space Station to do long-term exploration studies. Each has a cost associated with it, but with each also comes a smidgeon of knowledge we can add to the encyclopedia of the human race,” remarks Universe Today’s Elizabeth Howell.
“There also are benefits that maybe we cannot anticipate ahead of time. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a network that advocates looking for life around the universe, likely because communicating with beings outside of Earth could bring us some benefit. And perhaps there is another space-related discovery just around the corner that will change our lives drastically,” she adds.