- Press Release
- Sep 27, 2022
Shuttle Program Results in Down to Earth Technology Discoveries
Dwayne Brown/Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington, DC
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.