From real-time weather visualization and forecasting, high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon and Mars, to real-time tracking of the International Space Station and the space shuttle, NASA is collaborating with Google to solve a variety of challenging technical problems ranging from large-scale data management and massively distributed computing, to human-computer interfaces-with the ultimate goal of making the vast, scattered ocean of data more accessible and usable. With companies like InterSense, NASA continues to fund and collaborate on other software advancement initiatives benefiting such areas as photo/video image enhancement, virtual-reality/design, simulation training, and medical applications.
Work Surface Light Bulbs
After decades of advancements in the field of optics and eye protection, NASA facilitated the development of the Eye Saver™ Bulb by Westinghouse. This product is a light bulb that makes seeing easier under working conditions by providing 40 percent more surface illumination on work and reading surfaces than incandescent bulbs, all while burning twice as long. The product is suitable for people of all ages and is particularly ideal for applications requiring high-light levels, like reading, sewing, crafts, and numerous other recreational hobbies. Notably, those with macular degeneration and low vision see easier to perform tasks that might otherwise prove daunting due to their conditions, especially seniors, who are most susceptible to these eye diseases.
When Al Gross, the award-winning aerospace engineer and lead designer of NASA space suits, was contacted by AVIA in the 80s to provide his experience to design an advanced shoe that would retain its shock absorption, stability and flexibility over a substantially longer lifetime. The result was the creation of a three dimensional “space” material used in the NASA Apollo lunar suit, encapsulated in a polyurethane foam carrier which forms the base of the Dynacoil Athletic shoe cushioning system, which utilizes a rigid/flexible external pressurized cell with horizontal bellows. Over time, the shoes lose almost none of their shock absorbing capabilities and have superior stability and motion control.
Liquid Metal & Sports Equipment
Liquidmetal alloy, also known as metallic glass or Vitreloy, was designed for the space program and was used aboard numerous Shuttle missions. It is an entirely new metal technology that takes the structure of glass and combines it with the properties of metal for a unique product twice as strong as titanium but the flexibility of a polymer. Golf clubs made with this technology have a lower vibration response along with a softer, more solid feel with less energy absorbed by the club’s head, and more transferred directly to the ball. Vitreloy has potential commercial uses in sporting equipment: tennis rackets, bicycle frames, and baseball bats. The Liquidmetal alloy is projected to replace many high performance materials, such as titanium, in the industries of aerospace, defense, military, automotives, medical instrumentation and prosthetics, and sporting goods.
As the result of a program designed to develop a padding concept to improve crash protection for airplane passengers, Ames Research Center developed a foam material with unusual properties. The material is widely used and commonly known as temper foam or “memory foam.” The material has been incorporated into a host of widely used and recognized products including mattresses, pillows, military and civilian aircraft, automobiles and motorcycles, critical sports safety equipment, amusement park rides and arenas, horseback saddles, archery targets, furniture, and human and animal prostheses. Its high-energy absorption and soft characteristics not only offer superior protection in the event of an accident or impact, but enhanced comfort and support for passengers on long flights or those seeking restful sleep. Today, temper foam is being employed by NASCAR to provide added safety in racecars.
Phase Change Materials
Utilizing the same adaptive phase-changing materials applied to NASA astronauts’ suits and gloves devised for better protection against the bitter cold and scorching heat in space, Outlast Technologies, Inc.’s Outlast products (i.e. boots, socks, underwear, shirts, pants, jackets, gloves, hats, bedding) continuously interact with the unique microclimate of the human body and the environment to moderate temperature to keep it just right. Outlast apparel keeps the body comfortable by absorbing excessive heat, diminishing the amount of moisture in clothing. Such “smart” clothing helps maintains an effective “comfort zone” in cold-weather environments, releasing stored heat back to the body when it begins to chill.
In 1985, the U.S. Cycling Federation ruled that all racers must wear helmets that meet American National Safety Institute Standards. Existing helmets were hot and heavy. Jim Gentes, president of Giro Sport Design, Inc. turned to Raymond Hicks, a NASA aerodynamicist, for the design of a cool, lightweight, aerodynamic helmet. Hicks modeled the helmet shape on the principles of a World War II-era airfoil technology from a NACA airfoil section, incorporating front and rear air vents to make the air flow laminar, reduce drag and cool with ventilation.