Space Shuttle Program Benefits Industry and Health
October 11, 2000
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
SHUTTLE PROGRAM RESULTS IN DOWN-TO-EARTH TECHNOLOGY DISCOVERIES
For nearly two decades, the space shuttle has been the cornerstone of
the U.S. space program -- the world's only reusable spacecraft. It's
the first vehicle in the history of space flight that can carry large
cargoes, such as satellites and spacecraft parts, both to and from
During construction of the International Space Station, the Space
Shuttle will serve as the world's largest and most sophisticated
moving van, carrying astronauts, cosmonauts and literally tons of
equipment and supplies to the new outpost in orbit.
The technology used to create the most versatile and most advanced
spacecraft ever built also touches the lives of people here on Earth.
After nearly 100 flights, the benefits to industry, medical research,
and to the quality of daily life easily match the number of missions.
More than 100 documented NASA technologies from the Space Shuttle are
now incorporated into the tools you use, the foods you eat, and the
biotechnology and medicines used to improve your health.
"We often take for granted the returns on NASA's past investments:
Everything from global satellite telecommunications to disposable
diapers are the result of our investment in space technology," said
NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "The mission of the Space Shuttle
is no different. The program's goal is to play a lead role in opening
the space frontier, but it's also about bringing the discoveries of
the Space Shuttle into your home."
For more information on NASA-developed technologies that can be used
to help solve everyday problems on Earth, visit:
Following are some examples of shuttle-based technologies:
Developed for Space Shuttle medical research, a rotating cell-culture
device simulates the microgravity of space. This allows researchers to
grow cells in three dimensions. The device may one day help
researchers find cures for dangerous infectious diseases and offer
alternatives to patients who need organ transplant surgery.
Technology used in Space Shuttle fuel pumps led to the development of
a miniaturized ventricular-assist pump by NASA and renowned heart
surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey. The tiny pump, a mere two inches long,
one inch in diameter, and weighing less than four ounces, is currently
undergoing clinical trials in Europe, where it has been successfully
implanted into more than 20 people.
Blood Serum Research
An astronaut's body, once free of gravity's pull, experiences a
redistribution of body fluids that can lead to a decrease in the
number of red blood cells and produce a form of space anemia.
Monitoring and evaluating blood serum was required to understand these
phenomena. However, existing blood-analysis technology required the
use of a centrifugation technology that was not practical in space.
NASA developed new technologies for the collection and real-time
analysis of blood as well as other bodily fluids without the need for
Responding to a request from the orthopedic-appliance industry, NASA
recommended that the foam insulation used to protect the Shuttle's
external tank replace the heavy, fragile plaster used to produce
master molds for prosthetics. The new material is light, virtually
indestructible, and easy to ship and store.
Special lighting technology developed for plant-growth experiments on
Space Shuttle missions is now used to treat brain tumors in children.
Doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee use
light-emitting diodes in a treatment called photodynamic therapy, a
form of chemotherapy, to kill cancerous tumors.
Infrared sensors developed to remotely measure the temperature of
distant stars and planets for the Space Shuttle program led to the
development of the hand-held optical sensor thermometer. Placed inside
the ear canal, the thermometer provides an accurate reading in two
seconds or less.
Devices built to measure the equilibrium of Space Shuttle astronauts
when they return from space are now widely used by major medical
centers to diagnose and treat patients suffering head injury, stroke,
chronic dizziness and disorders of the central nervous system.
NASA technology was used to create a compact laboratory instrument for
hospitals and doctor offices. This device quickly analyzes blood,
accomplishing in 30 seconds what once took 20 minutes with
Land Mine Removal
The same rocket fuel that helps launch the Space Shuttle is now being
used to save lives -- by destroying land mines. A flare device, using
leftover fuel donated by NASA, is placed next to the uncovered land
mine and is ignited from a safe distance using a battery-triggered
electric match. The explosive burns away, disabling the mine and
rendering it harmless.
Tracking Vehicles on Earth
Tracking information originally used for Space Shuttle missions now
helps track vehicles here on the ground. This commercial spin-off
allows vehicles to transmit a signal back to a home base. Many cities
today use the software to track and reassign emergency and public
works vehicles. The technology also is used by vehicle fleet
operations, such as taxis, armored cars and vehicles carrying
Rescue squads have a new extrication tool to help remove accident
victims from wrecked vehicles. The hand-held device requires no
auxiliary power systems or cumbersome hoses and is 70 percent cheaper
than previous rescue equipment. The cutter uses a miniature version of
the explosive charges that separate devices on the Space Shuttle.
Byte Out of Crime
Image-processing technology used to analyze Space Shuttle launch
videos and to study meteorological images also helps law enforcement
agencies improve crime-solving videos. The technology removes defects
due to image jitter, image rotation and image zoom in video sequences.
The technology also may be useful for medical imaging, scientific
applications and home video.
A gas leak-detection system, originally developed to monitor the
Shuttle's hydrogen propulsion system, is now being used by the Ford
Motor Company in the production of a natural gas-powered car.
NASA needs to identify, track, and keep records on each of the
thousands of heat-shield tiles on the Space Shuttle. This required a
labeling system that could be put on ceramic material and withstand
the rigors of space travel to be readable after a flight. NASA
developed high data-density, two-dimensional, machine-readable symbol
technology used to mark individual tiles. This novel method of
labeling products with invisible and virtually indestructible markings
can be used on electronic parts, pharmaceuticals and livestock -- in
fact on just about anything.
Keep Cool Under Fire
Materials from the Space Shuttle thermal protection system are used on
NASCAR racing cars to protect drivers from the extreme heat generated
by the engines. This same material is also used to protect
Fire Resistant Foam
A unique foam developed for Space Shuttle thermal insulation and
packing is now being used as thermal and acoustical insulation in
aerospace, marine and industrial products. Since it's also fire
resistant, it's being used as well for fire barriers, packaging and
other applications requiring either high-temperature or very
low-temperature insulation in critical environments. For example, use
of these foam products by airframe manufacturers such as Boeing,
Lockheed-Martin, and Airbus provides major weight savings, while
retaining good thermal and acoustical properties in the various
A sensitive, gas infrared camera, used by NASA observers to monitor
the blazing plumes from the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters is
also capable of scanning for fires. Firefighters use this hand-held
camera to pinpoint the hotspots of wildfires that rage out of control.
Jewelers no longer have to worry about inhaling dangerous asbestos
fibers from the blocks they use as soldering bases. Space Shuttle
heat-shield tiles offer jewelers a safer soldering base with
temperature resistance far beyond the 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit
generated by the jeweler's torch.
NASA developed a tool that uses powerful jet streams of water to strip
paint and primer from the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters. A
commercial version of this water jet is now used to treat
turbine-engine components, airframe components, large aerospace
hardware, ships and other mechanical devices, using only pure water.
No hazardous chemicals are needed.
Quick Fit Fasteners
Fastening items in space is a difficult task. A Virginia company
developed a fastener that can be pushed on, rather than turned. These
quick-connect fasteners are flexible and strong, and have been used by
NASA astronauts since 1989. The product is now in use by firefighters
and nuclear power-plant repair technicians, and has other commercial
Computer games can now be played with all the precision and
sensitivity needed for a safe and soft Space Shuttle touchdown. A
game-controlling joystick for personal computer-based entertainment
systems was modeled after controls used in shuttle simulators.
Astronauts used the joystick to practice runway landings and orbit
Toys for Tots
Already successful with its Nerf toy products, Hasbro, Inc. wanted to
design a toy glider that a child could fly. Benefiting from NASA
wind-tunnel and aerodynamic expertise used in the Space Shuttle
program, Hasbro improved the flying distances and loop-to-loop stunts
of its toy gliders.
A lubricant used on the transporter that carries a Space Shuttle to
the launch pad has resulted in a commercial penetrating-spray lube,
which is used for rust prevention and loosening corroded nuts. It's
also a cleaner and lubricant for guns and fishing reels, and can be
used to reduce engine friction.