Top 5 NASA Green Tech Spin-offs

Apollo 11 Mission Moon Landing (

Ontoday, which marks the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, bythe U.S. Apollo 11 mission astronauts including Neil Armstrong, MichaelCollins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., the world can reflect on all ofthe contributions the NASA Space Program has offered to the red-hot field of Green technology.A list of five major areas has been compiled where space explorationhas enabled various Green elements of society. They are ranked from onethrough five based on the overall nature of the impact of the relatedapplications associated with each category. The categories are somewhatarbitrary and the applications are by no means a comprehensive list;however, many of the well-known linkages have been identified. 

First and foremost, Environmental and Resource Management deals with the advancements in solar energy,which have been generated for various space and satellite applicationsthat now are leading to significant power production plans globally,especially in the U.S. in lieu of increased legislative support at the federal and state level.Over the years since the first moon landing, solar panels have been ahighly visible symbol associated with the International Space Stationand Hubble Space Telescope.In terms of environmental regulations, space research has helpedimprove the sustainability of the planet via the creation of advancedsatellite systems that are used in monitoring the ozone layer, global warming, and deforestation.

1. Environmental and Resource Management: Solar Energy -NASA pioneered photovoltaic solar power systems for spacecraftapplications. Solar energy technology has been developed for spaceprograms to expand terrestrial applications, including satellites whereno other suitable long-lasting energy source available; Forest Management -NASA-initiated satellite scanning system monitors and maps forestationby detecting radiation reflected and emitted from trees; Sensors for Environmental Control– NASA development of an instrument for use in space life supportresearch led to commercial development of a system to monitor anindustrial process stream to assure that water’s pH level and airpollution level is within environmental regulations; Oil Spill Control– The concept was invented by Petrol Rem, Inc. of Pittsburgh, Penn.Also, Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratoryhelped to design the tiny beeswax balls (microcapsules).

2. Consumer/Home/Recreation: Water Purification Systems– NASA-developed municipal-size water treatment system for developingnations, entitled Regenerable Biocide Delivery Unit, using iodinerather than chlorine to kill bacteria; Pool purification -space technology designed to sterilize water on spacecraft was appliedto swimming pool purification leading to a system that uses twosilver-copper alloy electrodes that generate silver and copper ionswhen an electric current passes through them to annihilate bacteria andalgae without chemicals; Home Insulation – NASA-derived Barrierto Radiation designed to reflect away 95 percent of the sun’s radiantenergy from spacecraft leading to significant savings in home heatingand cooling costs; Home Smoke Detector – NASA needed a smokeand fire detector for Skylab, which was America’s first space station.Honeywell, Inc. developed the unit for NASA. 

Second, as a nearnumber one, the Consumer/Home/Recreation category focuses on numeroushome and consumer benefits that can be attributed to the space programincluding water and pool purification systems, which are obvioussignificant factors for the improvement in the quality of life and theeffective utilization of natural resources. Home insulation and smokedetectors are key elements of Green building design, which weredeveloped for obvious reasons for NASA spacecraft in dealing withextreme temperature fluctuations in space and various types ofradiation. 

3. TransportationWeight-reduction technology– NASA research on composite materials used to achieve a 30 percentweight reduction in a twin-turbine helicopter, resulting in substantialincrease in commercial and military aircraft performance; Enhanced Aircraft Engine– Multiple NASA developed technological advancements resulted in acleaner and more economical commercial aircraft engine known as thehigh bypass turbofan, featuring a 10 percent reduction in fuelconsumption, lower noise levels and emission reductions for carboncompounds; Energy Storage Systems – flywheel energy storagesystem, derived from two NASA-sponsored energy storage studies, is achemical-free, mechanical battery that extracts energy of a rapidlyspinning wheel and stores it as electricity with ~50 times the capacityof a lead-acid battery, helping enable electric vehicles.

Transportationranks number three including key spin-off developments from spaceresearch such as weight-reduction and subsequent fuel efficiencyinitiatives for commercial aircraft to improve the cost, flexibility,and availability of global travel as well as numerous advanced militaryaircraft capable of sophisticated tactical maneuvers and carryingheavier cargo. In addition, battery enhancements have been derived fromthese efforts enabling improvements in electric automobiles. 

4. Computer technology: Structural Analysis– NASA program, originally created for Green design and controls, hasbeen employed in a broad array of non-aerospace applications, such asthe automobile industry, manufacture of machine tools, and hardwaredesigns; Air Quality Monitors – utilizing a NASA-developed,advanced analytical technique software package, an air quality monitorsystem was created for separating the various gases in bulk exhaust streams and determining the amount of specific gases present within the stream for compliance with emissions standards; Virtual Reality– NASA-developed research allows a user, with assistance from advancedtechnology devices, to figuratively project oneself into acomputer-generated environment, matching the user’s head motion,enabling a telepresence experience and simulations for Green buildingdesign. 

How can anyone not recognize the simplicity of computersystems from the Apollo 11 mission footage or those shown in the movieApollo 13 versus today’s standards? A plethora of software programs foraerodynamic designs in addition to virtual reality systems, includingsimulators for applications such as the operation of power plants,thermal mapping of cities for Green building design, and large-scale city-wide water and energy usage. 

5. Industrial Regulation: Advanced Lubricants– An environmental-friendly lubricant designed to support the SpaceShuttle Mobile Launcher Platform led to the development of threecommercial lubricants for railroad track maintenance, electric powercompany corrosion prevention, and as a hydraulic fluid with anoxidation life of 10,000 hours; Fossil fuel vapor recovery and emissions testing – the process of recovering and monitoring the vapors of gasoline or other fuels,so that they do not escape into the atmosphere was a critical elementfor space launch vehicles to ensure the lack of leaks and accurate fuellevels for mission success. 

Industrial regulation, as a whole,even though there is some overlap with other categories, is a clearnumber five in terms of overall significance. Many niche applicationsmay be attributed to NASA initiatives including the development ofadvanced materials and testing for high performance conditions in spacewhich have been transferred to the commercial level such as lubricants,automobile and industrial emissions reductions and analysis forminimizing the effect on global warming.

It would be interestingto hear from viewers concerning additional Green technology spin-offsfrom the last 40 years of space exploration since the Apollo 11 missionmoon landing.

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