Built and designed by Avco Corporation, the Apollo heat shield was coated with a material whose purpose was to burn and thus, dissipate energy while charring to form a protective coating to block further heat penetration. NASA subsequently funded Avco’s development of other applications of the heat shield, for uses in fire-retardant paints and foams for aircraft, which led to the world’s first intumescent epoxy material, which expands in volume when exposed to heat or flames, acting as an insulating barrier and dissipating heat through burn-off. Further innovations based on this product include steel coatings devised to make high-rise buildings and public structures safer by swelling to provide a tough and stable insulating layer over the steel for up to 4 hours of fire protection, ultimately to slow building collapse and provide more time for escape.
Video Enhancing & Analysis Systems
Building on Video Image Stabilization and Registration (VISAR) technology created by NASA to help FBI agents analyze video footage originally used for enhanced video imaging from nighttime videotapes made with hand-held camcorders, Intergraph Government Solutions developed its Video Analyst System (VAS). VAS is a state-of-the-art, simple, effective, and affordable tool for video enhancement and analysis offering benefits such as support of full-resolution digital video, stabilization, frame-by-frame analysis, conversion of analog video to digital storage formats, and increased visibility of filmed subjects without altering underlying footage. Aside from law enforcement and security applications, VAS has also been adapted to serve the military for reconnaissance, weapons deployment, damage assessment, training, and mission debriefing.
Firefly, based on NASA’s remote sensing technology and years of experience in developing digital image processing techniques for enhancing spacecraft pictures of distant planets, is an airborne system used to image forest fires using satellite-based navigation for greater positioning accuracy. It offers timeliness in fire location data delivery with on-board data processing and a direct aircraft-to-fire camp communications link. Firefly has an infrared line scanner to identify fire boundaries and an infrared sensor system that can penetrate smoke to image the ground. Firefly is an outgrowth of a previous collaboration that produced FLAME, an airborne fire-mapping instrument used by the U.S. Forest Service.
Face Masks & Fire Suits
Breathing equipment widely used throughout the United States is based on a NASA development that coupled NASA’s design expertise and lightweight materials developed for the U.S. space program. A project that linked NASA and the National Bureau of Standards resulted in a lightweight breathing system including face mask, frame, harness and air bottle marketed by Scott Aviation when an aluminum composite material that provided an easily accessible frame and harness was produced. Today every major manufacturer of breathing apparatus incorporates NASA technology in some form, reducing inhalation injuries. Additionally, NASA has also developed a specialized mask weighing less than three ounces to protect the physically impaired from injuries to the face and head, as well as flexible heat-resistant materials - developed to protect the Space Shuttle on reentry - which are being used both by the military and commercially in suits for municipal and aircraft-rescue firefighters.
Land Mine Removal
Due to arrangements such as the one between Thiokol Propulsion and NASA that permits Thiokol to use NASA’s surplus rocket fuel to produce a flare that can safely destroy land mines, NASA is able to reduce propellant waste without negatively impacting the environment, and Thiokol is able to access the materials needed to develop the Demining Device flare. The Demining Device flare uses a battery-triggered electric match to ignite and neutralize the mine in the field without detonation. The flare uses solid rocket fuel to burn a hole in the mine’s case and burn away the explosive contents so the mine can be disarmed without hazard.
The need for all spacecraft to be void of bacterial life, especially the microscopic bacteria that can live hundreds of years in their spore states, prompted the development of a bacterial spore-detection system that uses a simple and robust chemical reaction that visually alerts the crew that bacterium is present. This technology has awesome applications here on Earth. The bacterial spore-detection unit can recognize anthrax and other harmful, spore-forming bacteria and alert people of the impending danger. Recognizing the inherent benefits to public safety and security, NASA assisted the private sector to speed this life-saving product to market. The resulting Anthrax Smoke Detector, now being used around the world, is a simple, low-cost, reliable solution that runs continuously with little maintenance and with low susceptibility to false alarms.
Radio & Breathing Systems
Aerospace technology has been beneficially transferred to civil-use applications for years but perhaps the broadest fire-related technology transfer is the breathing apparatus worn by firefighters for protection from smoke inhalation injury. Breathing equipment widely used throughout the United States is based on a NASA development that coupled NASA’s design expertise and lightweight materials developed for the U.S. space program. Additionally, radio communications are essential during a fire to coordinate hose lines, rescue victims, and otherwise increase efficiency. NASA’s inductorless electronic circuit technology contributed to the development of a lower-cost, more rugged, short-range two-way radio.
The LifeShear cutter, a rescue tool for freeing accident victims from wreckage, incorporates NASA pyrotechnical separation technology. It was developed as an improvement to prior cumbersome and expensive cutting equipment under a cooperative agreement that teamed NASA and Hi-Shear Technology Corporation. Using a miniature version of the power cartridges used for separation devices on the Space Shuttle and other NASA spacecraft, this new pyrotechnically-actuated tool is 70 percent lower in cost and 50 percent lighter and than older equipment, aiding life-savers worldwide.
Flame Retardant Materials
Wessex Inc. has recently taken a technology originally developed for NASA as a protective coating for ceramic materials used in heat shields for space vehicles, and modified it for use in applications in building materials, machinery, and transportation. The technology, developed at NASA as a protective coating for flexible ceramic composites (PCC), is environmentally safe, water-based, and contains no solvents, unlike other flame-retardant materials containing petroleum-based components which can produce toxic smoke under flame. Extraordinarily tough and resistant to heat, vibration, abrasion and mechanical damage, versions of this technology can be used to shield ceramics, wood, plasterboard, steel, plastics, fiberglass, and other materials from catastrophic fires. One thin layer of the coating essentially reduces the likelihood of the underlying material becoming so hot that it combusts and thus inhibits the “flashover” phenomenon from occurring.
Data provided from NASA to Luna Technologies International’s about the technology incorporated in its exit pathway indicators inspired Luna to improve its product which ultimately lead to NASA’s selection of LUNAplast for the emergency exit pathway indicators on the International Space Station (ISS). Available as rigid plastic and acrylic sheeting or flexible vinyl rolls, LUNAplast illuminates without the need for electricity, maintenance, or a power connection. An environmentally-friendly material, it is available in a full line of screen-printed emergency signs, directional markers, and international safety symbols for illuminating hallways, walkways, and other indoor or outdoor areas.