Editorial: Commercial benefits from space
Except for the occasional coverage of the launching and landing of the Space Shuttle, a lot of activities taking place in space today go by largely unnoticed. But a wide array of research and development has been conducted in space during the past four decades, resulting in technological advances affecting the growth of existing industries and creating new ones. Products and services derived directly from space technology and indirectly from spin-off industries contribute to improving the quality of life and society. The list below contains just a few examples of how space exploration pervades many aspects of our daily lives in fields such as environmental, public health and safety, transportation, computer and information technology and manufacturing of everyday products:
- Identification System: Commercial marking system based on digital data matrix developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center uses invisible, virtually indestructible laser-etched markings (called compressed symbologies) to automate inventory taking, cut warehousing costs and more. The coding technology allows using up to 100 times more information as linear bar-coding symbology in the same or less space.
- Emergency rescue blankets: A low-density honeycomb material based on lightweight insulation used in spacecraft is capable of hindering convective and radiative heat transfer. The polymer material is four times warmer and dries five times faster than wool, even when subjected to wet conditions.
- Oil spill cleanup: Petroleum remediation product (PRP) consists of thousands of microcapsules (tiny balls of beeswax with hollow centers) containing live microorganisms and nutrients to sustain them. Oil is consumed and digested by the microorganisms as oil flows through the microcapsule's shell.
- Automotive insulation: 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.
- Gas detector: A gas leak-detection system originally developed to monitor the Shuttle's hydrogen propulsion system is being used by Ford Motor Co. in its natural gas-powered car.
- Land mine-removal device: Rocket fuel used in a Space Shuttle launch is 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 ignited from a safe distance. The explosive burns away, disabling the mine and rendering it harmless.
- Prosthesis material: Foam insulation used to protect the Shuttle's external tank replaces the heavy, fragile plaster used to produce master molds for prosthetics. The new material is lightweight, virtually indestructible and easy to ship and store.
- Video stabilization software: Image-processing technology used to analyze Space Shuttle launch video and to study meteorological images helps law enforcement agencies improve crime-solving video. The technology removes defects due to image jitter, image rotation and image zoom in video sequences.