Thursday, May 24, 2012

NASA Celebrates Spinoff Technologies from the Space Shuttle Program

NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA)
The Space Shuttle Discovery has made its final voyage and now rests in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center just outside of Washington, D.C. Its transfer has inspired many to reflect on the historic contributions of the Space Shuttle Program to human space flight and scientific discovery.

But even while the Space Shuttle Program has officially come to a close, more than 120 technologies developed during its lifetime are continuing to benefit society as commercial products. As a part of its celebration of the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA highlighted several of these spinoffs with an exhibit on display at the unveiling of Discovery at its new permanent home. The exhibit will also appear at the upcoming unveilings of the Space Shuttles Enterprise, Endeavor, and Atlantis in New York City, Los Angeles, and Kennedy Space Center, respectively.

Among the award-winning spinoffs that have emerged from the Space Shuttle Program are life-saving medical innovations, energy-conserving insulation and design elements, and even protective - and fashionable - eyewear.

Space shuttle science has led to important, and even surprising, advances in medical technology. Inspired by experiments demonstrating the strong growth of bacteria in microgravity, NASA engineers developed a special bioreactor with rotating walls to simulate freefall conditions - essentially recreating a microgravity environment on Earth. The unique growth method encourages healthier, more natural-forming cell cultures and is currently facilitating research into treatment for cancer and diabetes.

A heart pump on display in the NASA exhibit is a great example of how innovation can come from unexpected sources - in this case flow challenges posed by the space shuttle’s fuel pumps, a problem that turned out to share similarities with challenges posed by human blood circulation. The resulting miniaturized pump, which was a result of collaboration between doctors and NASA engineers, has kept more than 450 people alive while they wait for a transplant.

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