When most people think of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), they almost instinctively look skyward and their first thoughts involve space and space exploration.
Created in 1958 for the purpose of peaceful exploration of space, NASA continues to fulfill that mission almost 50 years later. Many of us know of NASA’s major accomplishments in space—placing a man on the moon, the shuttle program and now its role in the International Space Station.
Those accomplishments resulted from a close association of NASA with a number of civilian contractors, partnerships, and collaborations. These collaborations are vital—minor inconveniences here on earth become much more complex in zero gravity. This article illustrates the challenges associated with repairing clogged toilets in space.
So NASA collaborations DO solve space problems…and one pleasant side effect is that they also solve problems here on earth. Not many people may not realize what a tremendous terrestrial impact NASA has had on our everyday lives. These partnerships have resulted in everyday improvements in our lives that we now just take for granted.
Spinoffs are not just for TV
Published initially in 1976 and annually since 1978, the NASA Spinoff guide highlights technologies that got their start through collaborative partnerships with NASA. In 2016 alone, companies that work with NASA developed everyday technologies such as:
- Plastic conversion to diesel oil.
- Helped microbreweries carbonate their beer
- Bringing balance to ugly golf swings
Maybe Plastics AREN’T forever!
In conjunction with NASA, the Glenn Research Company in Cleveland, Ohio has developed a technology to convert unwanted/discarded plastic trash into a diesel additive/fuel. How? Many plastics are manufactured by polymerizing small molecules found in crude oil and natural gas.
GRC has developed a way to depolymerize plastics into light, sweet crude. What’s NASA’s angle? Why would NASA be interested in this? Deep space exploration needs fuel…lots of it. Pound for pound, plastics beat water (separated into H2 and O2) hands-down.
The technology pioneered by GRC will reduce our landfill waste and provide us with a fuel source. Win-Win. (The savvy reader will recognize the “Glenn” in GRC is the American astronaut, senator, and hero John Glenn, who passed in 2016).
NASA helps create better ales
Seriously, it sounds like something too good to be true. NASA sponsoring a study to help carbonate beer. Well, …that’s not quite what happened. Mother Nature has done that from the beginning of time, so why look into something she already perfected?
Actually, the technology developed via this partnership traced its roots into developing the conversion of the compounds and elements that comprise the (admittedly thin) Martian atmosphere into a fuel source.
The spinoff that technology inspired was a way for microbreweries to recapture their CO2 emissions to carbonate their ales.
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NASA cures what ails your golf swing
From ales to ails—NASA has also helped your golf swing. Full disclosure—Ales CAN cause your ailing golf swing—but that is NOT what NASA sponsored. NASA funded research to examine balance disorders with a particular emphasis on zero-gravity balance disorientations.
A Florida-based company worked with the developer to modify the technology with an eye towards sports participants. Golf pros now use these modifications to help you develop a more balanced swing—but only if you haven’t had too many ales.
So…NASA-sponsored research has supported the transformation of trash into diesel, better beer, and a better golf game. Yep, their terrestrial impact is pretty significant.