Every once in a while, when I’m hotseatting for Ask a High Energy Astronomer, someone will ask a question to the effect of “What good is NASA-developed technology for the rest of us on Earth?”
The first time I was asked, I remember finding a great FAQ on the NASA home page. However, since the redesign of the “NASA portal”, I have been unable to find that page. Today I was able to find a great resource for this question on the NASA pages — Spinoff. Spinoff is an annual publication, since 1996, that chronicles some of the ways that NASA technology has been successfully implemented commercially. A few of the cool applications in the 2004 issue include:
- In the field of health and medicine, A Look from the Inside:
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given the world amazing images of the distant stars, planets, and galaxies. The cutting-edge imaging technology that enhances the Hubble images also extends its benefits to life here on Earth, from deciphering previously unreadable portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls to improving digital mammographies for advanced cancer detection. This imaging technology is now helping physicians to perform micro-invasive arthroscopic surgery, which is the visual examination of an interior joint such as the knee.
- In the category of Public Saftey, Sizing up the Situation: NASA developed technology to provide a scale for pictures without requiring a ruler or other reference object. This is accomplished by attaching a device to the camera that emits two parallel laser beams. These lasers project a pattern that appears in the pictures, allowing accurate distance measurements of up to about 200 feet.
Information on the device is being distributed to crime laboratories around the world. Law enforcement photographers that take pictures of crime scenes can use the Laser Scaling Device to shoot scaled photos of blood-spatter patterns, graffiti, or other components of crime scenes that can be portrayed in a two-dimensional medium.
- In the category of Computer Technology, From Video to Photo:
A critical imaging code used to enhance video footage taken from spaceborne imaging instruments is now available within a portable photography tool capable of producing an optimized, high-resolution image from multiple video frames.
The main Spinoff page also includes links to technologies used in everyday life on Earth from Apollo mission development and technology development for the Space Shuttles. These are fairly impressive and includes the development of kidney dialysis machines from a chemical process developed to remove toxic waste from used dialysis fluid (Apollo mission-related) and the development of hand-held extraction tools for rescue squads to remembe accident victims from wrecked vehicles using a miniature version of the explosive charges that separate devices on the Shuttle.