Student Features

A Better Game of Golf -- NASA Style
11.18.04
Collage of pictures that represent NASA such as the Space Shuttle, Space Station, Earth, a satellite, an astronaut, stars, a computer and other drawings
One of the things that makes the space program worthwhile is that many things learned about space and space travel can benefit our lives on Earth. There are new and improved medical, communication and science technologies based on NASA research. There are more benefits than just these technologies. Some NASA technology has been used to make life more fun.

Image to right: This cover is from the NASA 2001 Spinoff magazine. It has art that represents NASA's progress in space exploration. Some art shows NASA's technology transfer. Credit: NASA

NASA has a Technology Transfer program. This program is how NASA lets businesses know about new technology that companies may want to use. The program lists ways that the new technology may be used. It also explains the science behind the technology. The result of a product based on technology transfer is called a "spinoff."

Building a Better Golf Ball
The Ben Hogan Company used NASA technology. They had already experimented with a variety of ball designs in their golf ball division. But, they were not sure of exactly what gave the ball its best flight. So they used NASA's high-speed video technology. This camera records thousands of images per minute. This technology was part of the Technology Transfer program.

Using video technology and computer hardware and software the company studied the ball in flight. They marked the balls and measured their flights. They recorded and studied the data and made improvements.

Another Great Idea
The Wilson Sporting Good Company wanted to create the best golf ball surface. This would cause the ball's flight to be longer and more accurate. Wilson's engineers used technology like that used to test the Space Shuttle's orange external tank. They studied the dimples on the ball's surface. They used three-dimensional computer graphic simulations to study the aerodynamics of the golf balls.
Picture of a golf ball and a drawing of the golf ball with its outer shell removed showing the different sized dimples


Image to left: The Wilson® Ultra 500 golf ball is covered with 500 dimples. The small, medium and large dimples are placed strategically across the ball's surface. Credit: NASA

They found that the large dimples reduced air drag while making the lift better. But small dimples prevented too much lift. Medium-sized dimples blended the characteristics of the large and small dimples. This information led Wilson to increase the number of dimples per ball. Which dimple size did they choose? They used a variety of sizes over the ball’s surface. Now the golf balls go faster and farther. This helps golfers have better scores. And, of course, better scores mean a more enjoyable game.

Photo of four golf clubs
Image to right: Metal mixtures studied for the Space Station have sparked a new line of golf clubs. Shape memory metal gives golfers new control and feel. Credit: NASA

Swing Golfer, Golfer Swing
The Memry® Corporation took a different approach to improving a golf game. Memry® researchers developed the "shape memory effect," or SME. This development is based on NASA studies of materials used on the International Space Station. SME is a property of some metal mixtures that causes them to change shape based on temperature. From that knowledge, Memry® began a line of products. These products use Zeemet®, a metal mixture that put Memry® in the golf business.

When Zeemet® is used in golf clubs, the result of the golfer's swing is improved. When viewed in super-slow motion, it is possible to see that the metal in a Zeemet® golf club changes for a split-second. The change keeps the ball on the club face longer. When the club strikes the ball, the ball has more spin and there is better ball control.

Who knows? If you play golf, you may have NASA technology to thank for your good score.

Adapted from Building Better Golf Balls and Memory Golf Clubs