“What does NASA do for me?” Countless people have asked me that question as the NASA administrator. It’s one I can answer easily – and one of the most important reasons is NASA spinoffs.
Finding homes for NASA technology beyond the space agency is part of our culture – it’s in our DNA. We have been transferring our technology to commercial companies since the very beginning of the agency. We also partner with industry, lending our expertise to help bring their innovations to market. These spinoffs result in products that improve and even save lives every day.
I feel confident saying you’re not too far from a NASA spinoff right now. Are you reading this on your phone? NASA helped develop the tiny, highly efficient video cameras in your device. It’s probably our single most ubiquitous spinoff technology, enabling high-definition video on the go and social media as we know it. But that’s not the only spinoff around you, or even in your phone. Every time your GPS app finds your location before offering you directions, it’s using software first developed at NASA.
We have countless spinoff examples of how investments in NASA pay dividends in the economy. The Apollo missions were expensive and challenging, but we’re still reaping the rewards here on Earth. Our new Spinoff 2021 publication tells more than 40 new stories of how NASA technologies have found uses beyond space. Each page represents at least one product for sale today. You – the public – benefit from not only those products but also the new ideas, companies, and jobs that come with them.
Spinoff 2021 highlights NASA innovations benefiting everyone from students to airplane passengers to assembly line workers and more. Here are a few highlights that stood out to me:
- In this age of remote learning, a guided tour of Mars is more appealing than ever. We collaborated with Google to create a virtual reality tool, based on decades of Mars research, that allows students to follow in the path of the Curiosity rover, right from their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
- The challenge of managing the organized chaos of airport ground operations, from fuel trucks to luggage handlers, has only grown as air travel has increased exponentially over the last few decades. Airport communication systems, however, were stuck in the past. We’re helping launch these systems into the digital age to help keep passengers safer and their flights on time.
- In space, robots can’t rely on gravity to keep their footing. We turned back to Earth for inspiration and developed robot-gripping technology based on how geckos scale ceilings. Now that technology grabs circuit boards, solar panels, and other smooth parts on an assembly line.
- PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) were commonplace before the world realized they were toxic. But even decades after they were banned, the pollutant has proven hard to eliminate from the ecosystem – and the food chain. A NASA inventor drew inspiration from a drinking straw, inventing a tool that leaches PCBs from groundwater and the soil around it.
These spinoff success stories are only one piece of an ongoing process led by our Space Technology Mission Directorate. Our technology portfolio today has more than a thousand exciting innovations ready for enterprising companies or entrepreneurs to license and develop them into commercial products. As we gear up for 21st century exploration missions – NASA’s Artemis program, a sustainable presence on the Moon, and eventually landing humans on Mars – NASA will invent new technologies. They will become our spinoffs of tomorrow, leading to more wide-ranging benefits for everyone on Earth.