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Shuttle Program Results In Down-To-Earth Technology Discoveries

October 12, 2000
National Aeronautics And Space Administration
Discovery sits poised on the launch pad, ready to fly into the history books on the 100th voyage of the Space Shuttle fleet. For nearly two decades, the Space Shuttle has been the cornerstone of the U.S. space program -- the world's only reusable spacecraft. It's the first vehicle in the history of space flight that can carry large cargoes, such as satellites and spacecraft parts, both to and from orbit.
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Discovery sits poised on the launch pad, ready to fly into the history books on the 100th voyage of the Space Shuttle fleet. For nearly two decades, the Space Shuttle has been the cornerstone of the U.S. space program -- the world's only reusable spacecraft. It's the first vehicle in the history of space flight that can carry large cargoes, such as satellites and spacecraft parts, both to and from orbit.

During construction of the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle will serve as the world's largest and most sophisticated moving van, carrying astronauts, cosmonauts, and literally tons of equipment and supplies to our new outpost in orbit.

The technology used to create the most versatile and most advanced spacecraft ever built also touches the lives of people here on Earth. After nearly 100 flights, the benefits to industry, medical research, and to the quality of daily life easily match the number of missions.

More than 100 documented NASA technologies from the Space Shuttle are now incorporated into the tools you use, the foods you eat, and the biotechnology and medicines used to improve your health.

"We often take for granted the returns on NASA's past investments: Everything from global satellite telecommunications to disposable diapers are the result of our investment in space technology," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "The mission of the Space Shuttle is no different. The program's goal is to play a lead role in opening the space frontier, but it's also about bringing the discoveries of the Space Shuttle into your home."

For more information on NASA-developed technologies that can be used to help solve everyday problems on Earth, visit:

3-D Biotechnology

Developed for Space Shuttle medical research, a rotating cell-culture device simulates the microgravity of space. This allows researchers to grow cells in three dimensions. The device may one day help researchers find cures for dangerous infectious diseases and offer alternatives to patients who need organ transplant surgery.

Artificial Heart

Technology used in Space Shuttle fuel pumps led to the development of a miniaturized ventricular-assist pump by NASA and renowned heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey. The tiny pump, a mere two inches long, one inch in diameter, and weighing less than four ounces, is currently undergoing clinical trials in Europe, where it has been successfully implanted into more than 20 people.

Blood Serum Research

An astronaut's body, once free of gravity's pull, experiences a redistribution of body fluids that can lead to a decrease in the number of red blood cells and produce a form of space anemia. Monitoring and evaluating blood serum was required to understand these phenomena. However, existing blood-analysis technology required the use of a centrifugation technology that was not practical in space. NASA developed new technologies for the collection and real-time analysis of blood as well as other bodily fluids without the need for centrifugation.

Artificial Limbs

Responding to a request from the orthopedic-appliance industry, NASA recommended that the foam insulation used to protect the Shuttle's external tank replace the heavy, fragile plaster used to produce master molds for prosthetics. The new material is light, virtually indestructible, and easy to ship and store.

Lifesaving Light

Special lighting technology developed for plant-growth experiments on Space Shuttle missions is now used to treat brain tumors in children. Doctors at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee use light-emitting diodes in a treatment called photodynamic therapy, a form of chemotherapy, to kill cancerous tumors.

Taking Temperatures

Infrared sensors developed to remotely measure the temperature of distant stars and planets for the Space Shuttle program led to the development of the hand-held optical sensor thermometer. Placed inside the ear canal, the thermometer provides an accurate reading in two seconds or less.

Better Balance

Devices built to measure the equilibrium of Space Shuttle astronauts when they return from space are now widely used by major medical centers to diagnose and treat patients suffering head injury, stroke, chronic dizziness and disorders of the central nervous system.

Faster Diagnostics

NASA technology was used to create a compact laboratory instrument for hospitals and doctor offices. This device quickly analyzes blood, accomplishing in 30 seconds what once took 20 minutes with conventional equipment.

Land Mine Removal

The same rocket fuel that helps launch the Space Shuttle is now being used to save lives -- by destroying land mines. A flare device, using leftover fuel donated by NASA, is placed next to the uncovered land mine and is ignited from a safe distance using a battery-triggered electric match. The explosive burns away, disabling the mine and rendering it harmless.

Tracking Vehicles on Earth

Tracking information originally used for Space Shuttle missions now helps track vehicles here on the ground. This commercial spin-off allows vehicles to transmit a signal back to a home base. Many cities today use the software to track and reassign emergency and public works vehicles. The technology also is used by vehicle fleet operations, such as taxis, armored cars and vehicles carrying hazardous cargo.

Rescue 911

Rescue squads have a new extrication tool to help remove accident victims from wrecked vehicles. The hand-held device requires no auxiliary power systems or cumbersome hoses and is 70 percent cheaper than previous rescue equipment. The cutter uses a miniature version of the explosive charges that separate devices on the Space Shuttle.

Byte Out of Crime

Image-processing technology used to analyze Space Shuttle launch videos and to study meteorological images also helps law enforcement agencies improve crime-solving videos. The technology removes defects due to image jitter, image rotation and image zoom in video sequences. The technology also may be useful for medical imaging, scientific applications and home video.

Gas Gauges

A gas leak-detection system, originally developed to monitor the Shuttle's hydrogen propulsion system, is now being used by the Ford Motor Company in the production of a natural gas-powered car.

Product Labeling

NASA needs to identify, track, and keep records on each of the thousands of heat-shield tiles on the Space Shuttle. This required a labeling system that could be put on ceramic material and withstand the rigors of space travel to be readable after a flight. NASA developed high data-density, two-dimensional, machine-readable symbol technology used to mark individual tiles. This novel method of labeling products with invisible and virtually indestructible markings can be used on electronic parts, pharmaceuticals and livestock -- in fact on just about anything.

Keep Cool Under Fire

Materials from the Space Shuttle thermal protection system are used on NASCAR racing cars to protect drivers from the extreme heat generated by the engines. This same material is also used to protect firefighters.

Fire Resistant Foam

A unique foam developed for Space Shuttle thermal insulation and packing is now being used as thermal and acoustical insulation in aerospace, marine and industrial products. Since it's also fire resistant, it's being used as well for fire barriers, packaging and other applications requiring either high-temperature or very low-temperature insulation in critical environments. For example, use of these foam products by airframe manufacturers such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Airbus provides major weight savings, while retaining good thermal and acoustical properties in the various products.

Fire Sighting

A sensitive, gas infrared camera, used by NASA observers to monitor the blazing plumes from the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters is also capable of scanning for fires. Firefighters use this hand-held camera to pinpoint the hotspots of wildfires that rage out of control.

Jeweler's Gem

Jewelers no longer have to worry about inhaling dangerous asbestos fibers from the blocks they use as soldering bases. Space Shuttle heat-shield tiles offer jewelers a safer soldering base with temperature resistance far beyond the 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit generated by the jeweler's torch.

Jet Stripping

NASA developed a tool that uses powerful jet streams of water to strip paint and primer from the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters. A commercial version of this water jet is now used to treat turbine-engine components, airframe components, large aerospace hardware, ships and other mechanical devices, using only pure water. No hazardous chemicals are needed.

Quick Fit Fasteners

Fastening items in space is a difficult task. A Virginia company developed a fastener that can be pushed on, rather than turned. These quick-connect fasteners are flexible and strong, and have been used by NASA astronauts since 1989. The product is now in use by firefighters and nuclear power-plant repair technicians, and has other commercial applications.

Computer Joysticks

Computer games can now be played with all the precision and sensitivity needed for a safe and soft Space Shuttle touchdown. A game-controlling joystick for personal computer-based entertainment systems was modeled after controls used in shuttle simulators. Astronauts used the joystick to practice runway landings and orbit maneuvering.

Toys for Tots

Already successful with its Nerf toy products, Hasbro, Inc. wanted to design a toy glider that a child could fly. Benefiting from NASA wind-tunnel and aerodynamic expertise used in the Space Shuttle program, Hasbro improved the flying distances and loop-to-loop stunts of its toy gliders.

Slick Products

A lubricant used on the transporter that carries a Space Shuttle to the launch pad has resulted in a commercial penetrating-spray lube, which is used for rust prevention and loosening corroded nuts. It's also a cleaner and lubricant for guns and fishing reels, and can be used to reduce engine friction.


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The above story is based on materials provided by National Aeronautics And Space Administration. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "Shuttle Program Results In Down-To-Earth Technology Discoveries." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 October 2000. <>.
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. (2000, October 12). Shuttle Program Results In Down-To-Earth Technology Discoveries. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 5, 2015 from
National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "Shuttle Program Results In Down-To-Earth Technology Discoveries." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 5, 2015).

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