10 NASA Spin-off Technologies Resulting From the Space Race

Added by Andrew Tyson on Feb 15, 2021
NASA spinoff technologies

Sometimes pure evil can, ironically, lead to good - and the space race is a prime example. The events leading to the race for space domination between the USSR and the USA can be traced back to the 1930's and Nazi Germany. Back in those days German missile technology was the most advanced in the world, and German scientists were experimenting with liquid-fueled rockets with the ultimate goal of sending rockets higher and further than ever before. Towards the end of the second world war both nations captured this advanced German rocket technology as well as staff, leading to a missile-based arms race.

This symbolic race was seen as a way to show the respective nation's technological and ideological dominance, and was even considered critical for national security. During those years there was a marked increase in education and research spending by the US government, with great importance placed on mathematics and science in schools.

The dream of reaching the stars brought about the space-race - a concerted effort to land on the moon, orbit a satellite around the Earth, and a whole lot more. These goals led to many spin-off technologies being developed along the way; today we'll be talking about the 10 most important ones.


MRI Scanners

It has long been rumored that NASA invented MRI and MRI machines. While this is untrue, NASA has contributed processes and technology that has helped other companies to develop the MRI scanners used in hospitals. When the Apollo Lunar Landing Program was being developed, engineers at NASA developed a technology known as digital image processing. Using this as a starting point, civilian contractors were able to develop MRI Scanners.


Highway safety

In order to prevent their test aircrafts from skidding and sliding off of wet runways, NASA developed the idea of safety grooving, grinding angled grooves in the runway to increase traction and prevent skidding on what was an otherwise smooth surface. This decreased stopping distance, as well as improved cornering ability and control. This process was adapted to highways to increase vehicle control in poor weather, and it has even moved on to parking lots and animal pens for the same reason of providing superior grip.


Structural analysis software

In order to properly analyze and design space vehicles, NASA needed a computer program what could take into account the elements and stresses the vehicles would undergo. Developed in the 1960s, and released to the public in 1971, NASTRAN is a finite element analysis program able to solve complex boundary value problems. Able to analyze the behavior of any elastic structure, this program has been used in a vast number of industries, helping to design anything from cars to skyscrapers. NASTRAN is continually evolving, and almost half of a century later is still considered an industry standard for aerospace design.


Fire-resistant building reinforcements

In order to provide safe re-entry, the Apollo capsules had to be coated with fire-resistant materials, or else they would melt during entry. The heat shield was the leading edge, and bore the brunt of the heat. AVCO responded by developing a material that would expand when heated and then burn away, dissipating the heat energy and keeping the capsule at a safe temperature. This then lead to the development of fire retardant paint, and later on, steel coatings for high-rise buildings to create an insulating layer around the steel and put off weakening and collapse for up to four more hours than just plain, uncoated steel. This technology is in use in almost all modern high-rise buildings.


Implantable Heart Aid

Essentially a miniaturized, implantable version of a defibrillator, the AID implantable automatic pulse generator was spun off from NASA’s Apollo technology. The AID monitors the heart continually and can deliver a corrective electronic shock if it detects a problem. It is implanted, and after that requires no additional equipment or specialized personnel for usage, only needing the usual check-ups.

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