Improved Radial Tires
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company developed a fibrous material, five times stronger than steel, for NASA to use in parachute shrouds to soft-land the Vikings through the tenuous Martian atmosphere. The fiber’s chain-like molecular structure gave it incredible strength in proportion to its weight. Recognizing the increased strength and durability of the material, Goodyear expanded the technology and went on to produce a new radial tire with a tread life expected to be 10,000 miles greater than conventional radials.
Cleaner Burning Cars
Chemical sensors developed by NASA engineers to detect potential hydrogen leaks during Space Shuttle launch operations found a new use in automobiles when Makel Engineering Inc. recognized that the NASA sensors could expedite the time-to-market for hydrogen-fueled transportation vehicles. The company went on to partner with a top U.S. automaker to supply its advanced hydrogen sensors for hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine (H2ICE) applications. As hydrogen becomes a more practical and established fuel source, the availability of safe hydrogen refueling sources will be fundamental to public acceptance. Effective hydrogen sensors that respond accurately and quickly to hydrogen gas leaks will be a prerequisite in the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles and related infrastructure.
NASA and Lockheed Martin Space Operations commissioned Sun Coast Chemicals of Daytona to develop a new type of high-performance and environmentally safe lubricant that would help “grease the wheels” of the shuttle-bearing launcher platform. Sun Coast, known in the racing circuit for effective lubricants that help overcome engine and transmission problems related to heat and wear damage, produced the biodegradable X-1R Crawler Track Lube as the solution. After determining there was a commercial market, they also produced several new specially-formulated derivative lubricant products for use in automobiles, racecars, sporting goods (fishing gear and guns), and household products - all of which have stood up to rigorous international testing.
Car Chassis & Brake Systems
Navistar International Transportation used three NASA-developed technologies in the design and testing of their 3000 Series Bus Chassis which was devised specifically for school bus applications. For structural analysis, they used a program which mathematically analyzed designs to predict how the school buses would hold up under stress. They also used a system for non-contact measurement of stress, load transfer mechanisms, detection of hidden flaws, and monitoring structural changes during fatigue testing, based on NASA infrared stress-measurement technology. They also utilized a NASA-developed meter to aid in passenger aircraft design by providing accurate measurements of ride vibration and sound level in order to gauge comfort level.
NASA and Triangle Research & Development Corporation (Triangle R&D) collaborated to create “Smart Eyes,” a specialized camera system that, for the first time, could read and measure bar codes without the use of lasers. This high-speed camera precisely tracks bar code positions and directions, and runs on software that can control robotic actions based on what it captures. Intended for robotic assembly on the International Space Station, this new development provided NASA with increased production with less manpower. Subsequently, Triangle R&D was tasked by the United States Department of Transportation to use this successful innovation to heighten automotive safety standards by developing a synthetic plastic “skin” mask for use in crash testing to enable repeatable, computerized evaluations of facial lacerations resulting from automobile accidents. Other technologies resulting from NASA funding and research include pilot protection devices developed through space-based and high-performance test aircraft programs.
NASA software engineers have created thousands of computer programs over the decades equipped to design, test, and analyze stress, vibration, and acoustical properties of a broad assortment of aerospace parts and structures (before prototyping even begins). The NASA Structural Analysis Program, or NASTRAN, is considered one of the most successful and widely-used NASA software programs. Originally created for spacecraft design, NASTRAN has been employed in a host of non-aerospace applications and is available to industry through NASA’s Computer Software Management and Information Center (COSMIC). COSMIC maintains a library of computer programs from NASA and other government agencies and offers them for sale at a fraction of the cost of developing a new program, benefiting companies around the world seeking to solve the largest, most difficult engineering problems.
Safety grooving, the cutting of grooves in concrete to increase traction and prevent injury, was first developed to reduce aircraft accidents on wet runways. Represented by the International Grooving and Grinding Association (IG&GA), the industry expanded into highway and pedestrian applications. The technique originated at NASA Langley Research Center, which assisted in testing the grooving at airports and on highways. Skidding was reduced, stopping distance decreased, and a vehicle’s cornering ability on curves was increased. The process has been extended to animal holding pens, steps, parking lots and other potentially slippery surfaces.
The Bull Nose livestock trailer, one of a line of highway transport vehicles manufactured by American Trailer, utilizes a slant side front end which is a streamlining feature based on a NASA Research Program which investigated the aerodynamic characteristics of trailer/tractor combinations and suggested ways of reducing air resistance. The application of NASA's aerodynamic research technology to the bull nose design resulted in a 10 percent reduction in air drag, which translates into significant fuel savings.