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NASA spinoffs

Hand gliders wings were designed in 1943 by Francis Rogallo at what is now NASA Langley Research Center.


Hand gliders wings were designed in 1943 by Francis Rogallo at what is now NASA Langley Research Center.

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  • Space Mountain roller coaster in Walt Disney World was designed using NASA's computer program NASTRAN (NASA Structural Analysis Program). Task is to design a support structure for the tracks which is totally safe and not overstrong. According to NASA, overstrengthing adds nothing to safety and simply wastes money in unneeded steel. NASTRAN analysis is quick and inexpensive. Minimizes trial and error in design process and makes possible better safe, lighter structures while affording large scale savings in development time and materials.
  • Temper foam.
If you owe a good night of sleep to a memory foam mattress, thank NASA. The most recognized and widely used NASA spinoff, the origins of temper foam date back to 1966 when it was developed to absorb shock and, thus, offer improved protection and comfort in NASA’s airplane seats. It has padded the helmets of the Dallas Cowboys throughout the 1970s and 1980s, protected bedridden patients from bedsores, and comforted the feet of thousands wearing stylish shoes that incorporate the cushioning material in their insoles. The material matches any pressure against it and slowly returns to its original form once the pressure is removed.
  • Hot and cold therapy.
NASA civil servant Tom Hughes got the idea for this invention after he discovered heat-sealing packaging materials that were developed for NASA applications. He came up with Thermal Ceramix, a pliable ceramic material capable of absorbing heat through microwaves and retaining it for an extended period of time. The clay-based substance also retains the cold when placed in the freezer.
  • Hand-held instrument fights acne.
The Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, more commonly referred to as “SATOP,” helped Tyrell Inc. founder Robert Conrad to come up with a cheaper heating element for a device that kills acne-causing bacteria. The product was dubbed Zeno and is sold over the counter. It applies a precisely controlled heat dose directly to the pimple through a metal pad. One treatment lasts 2.5 minutes.
  • Food supplement reduces fat.
Diversified Services Corporation developed and commercialized a new nutritional fat replacement and flavor enhancement product with assistance from NASA. The Nutrigras food supplement creates food that is more moist, more tender, and more flavorful than its full-fat counterpart, and one pound of the supplement replaces one pound of animal fat.
  • Tagatose: zero-calorie sweetener.
This sweetener is 92 percent as sweet as table sugar. It was created by a NASA scientist who tried to prove the existence of microbial life in Mars with the use of different kinds of glucose. The experiment wasn't successful, but it helped him discover this all-natural sugar. Tagatose, has been introduced into 7-Eleven’s Diet Pepsi Slurpee.
  • Hand gliders wings were designed in 1943 by Francis Rogallo at what is now NASA Langley Research Center.
  • Verification tools secure online shopping, banking.
In 1999, NASA’s Robust Software Engineering (RSE) group began developing a verification tool, called Java Pathfinder (JPF), for programs written in the popular Java programming language. If you do your banking or shopping online, you are most likely using Web sites enabled by Java applications. This photo, taken during Mars Pathfinder testing, shows the Pathfinder lander opening its petals to expose the yellow Sojourner rover (on left petal). Just like robotics and other hardware, control software must be extensively tested to ensure proper execution of commands.
  • Ultraviolet-blocking lenses.
In the 1980s, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists James Stephens and Charles Miller were studying the harmful properties of light in space, as well as that of artificial radiation produced during laser and welding work. They developed a welding curtain capable of absorbing, filtering, and scattering the dangerous light. SunTiger Inc.—now Eagle Eyes Optics, of Calabasas, California—was formed to market a full line of sunglasses based on the licensed NASA technology that promises 100-percent elimination of harmful wavelengths and enhanced visual clarity. Today, Eagle Eyes sunglasses are worn by millions of people around the world. The Eagle Eyes lens (right) makes scenes more vivid because harmless wavelength colors such as red, orange, yellow, and green are enhanced, and damaging rays in the blue, violet, and ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths are blocked.
  • Apollo-era life rafts save sailors.
While NASA was working on its rescue raft designs, inventor Jim Givens was similarly at work, designing a canopied raft with a hemispheric ballast chamber capable of withstanding the strongest winds and waves. 
Givens Marine Survival Co. Inc. now manufactures and markets the rescue rafts—under the name Givens Buoy Life Raft. 
This space-age technology is credited with saving the lives of over 450 seamen.
In this photo: Apollo astronauts and a Navy frogman in biological isolation garments await pickup from a helicopter.
  • Fresh vegetable from space.
The Bio-KES system uses NASA technology to remove ethylene gas and airborne pathogens -which cause plant spoilage and premature withering if present in excess amounts- from small storage areas, as well as floral and produce display cases.
  • Airline crew training.
The airline industry began to realize in the 1970s that most airplane accidents were caused by human error and crew failure to communicate properly. NASA helped train crew members in Cockpit Resource Management, which means the effective utilization of all resources available, including software.
  • ‘Anti-gravity’ treadmills speed rehabilitation.
While he was studying the biomechanics of exercise, Ames Research Center scientist Robert Whalen proposed using differential air pressure in space to mimic the Earth’s gravity to prevent bone loss and muscle deterioration. His invention has been patented and is used to rehabilitate patients needing support as they learned (or re-learned) to stand, walk, and run. After the patient’s lower body is sealed in an airtight enclosure, the system performs a calibration, adjusting to the person’s size and weight. If a patient desires more unloading—more weightlessness—a button is simply pressed on a touch screen, and the air pressure increases, lifting the body, reducing strain, and further minimizing impact on the legs.
  • NASA funded the design of simple and reusable patch repair systems for servicing, maintaining, and repairing structural components in space without the need for heavy machinery or an expense of time. Cornerstone Research Group Inc. was the recipient of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with NASA to that led to the development of a new type of structural patch for a variety of consumer uses. Rec’Repair is a tough, formable patch for easily repairing holes and damage to aluminum, steel, other metals, fiberglass, glass, painted surfaces, plastic, some wood, stiff vinyl, copolymers, and composites.
  • Bacteria provide cleanup of oil Spills, wastewater.
Micro-Bac International Inc.’s microbial solutions, including formulations developed under NASA SBIR contracts, utilize specifically selected bacteria combinations to naturally break down organic compounds such as animal waste and oil, without yielding toxic byproducts. The bacteria are used for wastewater systems, and septic tanks, and are employed in waste treatment for livestock farms and food manufacturers.
  • NASA funded the design of simple and reusable patch repair systems for servicing, maintaining, and repairing structural components in space without the need for heavy machinery or an expense of time. Cornerstone Research Group Inc. was the recipient of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with NASA to that led to the development of a new type of structural patch for a variety of consumer uses. Heated to about 194 °F, the material becomes flexible and moldable to any repair surface. As it cools, it becomes rigid again and retains the new shape. At operating temperatures, the material is rigid and strong.
  • NASA bio reactors advance disease treatment. 
In the mid-1980s, NASA researchers at Johnson Space Center were investigating the effects of long-term microgravity on human tissues. At the time, the Agency’s shuttle fleet was grounded following the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and researchers had no access to the microgravity conditions of space. To provide a method for recreating such conditions on Earth, Johnson’s David Wolf, Tinh Trinh, and Ray Schwarz developed that same year a horizontal, rotating device—called a rotating wall bioreactor—that allowed the growth of human cells in simulated weightlessness. On earth, the device is used to recreate cells by taking a sample of blood and separating and multiplying stem cells in a faster and cheaper way than other methods.
  • Forecasting tools point to fishing hotspots.
In 1997, NASA launched the first of more than 20 satellites that now comprise the Earth Observing System (EOS). EOS was designed to provide space-based measurements and imagery of Earth’s surface and atmosphere to help scientists understand climate change and humans’ role in it on a long-term, global scale. In 2006, a private weather forecasting company called WorldWinds Inc. approached the agency to use its oceanic data. The result was FishBytes, featuring a database of 18 fish species, which uses sea surface temperature and chlorophyll levels measured by NASA satellites to help anglers locate the best areas for their favorite catches.
  • NASA carved out some time to collaborate with an outdoor products manufacturer in order to help control mosquito populations on a local level. The technology resulting from this union leveraged a space-age heat blanket to attract mosquitoes, which would then be eliminated without the use of harmful pesticides or chemicals.
  • Help for the visually impaired.
This headset is formally known as the Low Vision Enhancement System (LVES, pronounced Elvis). It will not make the blind see but for the majority of those in the low vision category it will ease such everyday activities as reading, watching TV, cleaning house, shopping, or working at jobs or hobbies.
  • The LORAD Stereo Guide™ Breast Biopsy System incorporates Goddard Space Flight Center’s charge coupled device technology as part of a digital camera system that “sees” a breast structure with X-ray vision.
  • Water treatment systems.
In the 1960s, NASA’s Manned Space Center (now known as Johnson Space Center) and the Garrett Corporation, Air Research Division, conducted a research program to develop a small, lightweight water purifier for the Apollo spacecraft that would require minimal power and would not need to be monitored around-the-clock by astronauts in orbit. 
Using NASA technology, Carefree Clearwater, Ltd.’s automatic purification systems electronically release copper and silver ions into the water to destroy bacteria and algae.

These are examples of how technology produced by NASA has been turned into products used daily.

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