NASA is a world leader in space innovation, but the agency’s technology is also used in many industries here on Earth. Thousands of commercial health, safety and transportation products all utilize NASA know-how.
Here’s a look at some of the coolest tech.
Weightlifting technology is useless in a weightless environment like outer space. So how can astronauts keep fit without losing bone mass?
Kansas City company Oyo Fitness developed SpiraFlex, the first resistance exercise device for space. The SpiraFlex technology adapts aerobic, muscle and strength training to zero gravity through modified treadmills, exercise bikes and free weights.
According to company data, over 50 NASA crew members used the SpiraFlex Resistance Exercise Device to maintain bone and muscle in zero gravity during their five to six months on the International Space Station.
People on Earth can also get the benefits of SpiraFlex—the technology is included in the Bowflex Revolution home gym.
There are many amazing things about space, but astronauts often still face mental health issues. They cope with long periods of isolation and close working conditions with others—research shows this puts them at risk of depression and conflict with their crewmates.
Enter Harvard clinical psychologist James Cartreine, who developed Virtual Space Station, a computerized therapist that can diagnose and treat a range of mental health issues. Cartreine is now adapting and selling his virtual treatment module for Earthling use.
Cool Your Jets
Honda is best known for its cars, but it’s also a private jet manufacturer. To ensure the best flying experience, Honda tested its aircraft in wind tunnels at NASA’s Langley Research Center (seen in Hidden Figures).
The engines in Honda’s light jet are positioned over the wings, which help it fly faster but also present more risks. As such, Honda put scale models of its planes through the paces at NASA. Over 100 NASA-approved Honda private jets are in use around the world.
The Signal in the Noise
NASA satellites are built to detect the most minute changes in the universe, and that technology is now being used during natural disasters here on Earth.
The bureau worked with Maryland tech company R4 on FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster Emergency Response), a sensor which uses radar to detect the breathing and heartbeats of victims trapped under rubble. It’s already been used to save earthquake victims.
The technology works by detecting heartbeats and breathing patterns. FINDER directs low-powered microwaves (about 1/1000th of the power generated in a cell phone) toward an intended search area. The microwaves then detect vibrations from objects in the vicinity. This captured information is then analyzed by software algorithms, compares the ratio of human heartbeats against all other background noise and provides a final output on whether human life has been located.
Drone Traffic Forecasts
Drones have become a bigger part of everyday life—the Trump administration has even begun testing them.
But as the federal government developed drone regulations, they realized they would need data on flights that hadn’t happened yet. Maryland company Intelligent Automation worked with NASA to create a vision of future drone traffic.
It turns out scores of companies and agencies have drone operations planned, which came as a complete surprise to the feds. They are now developing a commercially available dataset for people planning drone operations.
Avoiding Drone Disaster
As humanity prepares for a drone-filled future, they also need to be ready for smarter drones.
Boston-based company Neurala is leading the way in this effort. The firm first worked with NASA on an artificially intelligent program that allowed for autonomous planetary exploration without the need for cloud computing.
This “Brains for Bots” project has now morphed into a new initiative to help drones and cars avoid collisions. Neurala’s technology helps drones process and “remember” data like never before.
New Weather Software
NASA’s WorldWind is an open-source “virtual globe” used to monitor weather patterns and data around the world. Scientists have used this software for many different purposes, including Quake Hunter, which visualizes seismological data to create a map of every earthquake in the last century, and SpaceBirds, which tracks 15,000 satellites in Earth’s orbit.
History in Virtual Reality
The Irish firm Immersive VR Education used NASA’s trove of images, design plans and data to virtually recreate the first moon landing. Its Apollo 11 VR app lets users experience humanity’s giant leap from takeoff to landing and reentry.
As part of the game, users can take control by flying the command module, piloting the lunar lander, exploring the moon’s surface and conducting experiments.
The Oscar Goes to… NASA?
All the attention was on the envelopes at last year’s Oscars, but the statues also feature a little bit of NASA magic: Each Oscar is coated with the same gold that helps telescopes glimpse distant galaxies.
Gold blocks heat in space, which makes it useful for NASA telescopes.
Epner Technology, a Brooklyn-based firm which gold-plates all NASA space tech, was retained by the Academy in 2016 to help make their statues shinier.
In previous years, Oscars had been cast in a tin alloy before being plated—that caused the gold coating to fall off over time. Many statues were actually being returned to the Academy because of the discoloration.
Epner’s NASA-approved gold coating, on the other hand, never comes off. So this year, whoever wins the Oscar can be sure that the little golden man actually stays gold for life.