If you have a pacemaker, have taken an echocardiogram or have had heart bypass surgery, you can thank NASA. Likewise, if you use a portable cordless vacuum or ear thermometer, sleep on a memory foam mattress, use anything with LED technology, own a home with solar panels or fly in a plane whose wings need de-icing. Space exploration has not only led to amazing discoveries in the solar system, but an astounding number of technical innovations on Earth, which include everything from developing better paint for bridges to a 3-D, high-definition endoscopic tool suitable for brain surgery that “will help to prevent things like damaging structures behind the tumor that are hidden behind you,” says Dr. Hrayr Shahinian, director of the Skull Base Institute in Los Angeles.
All of these are NASA spinoffs, technologies originally developed to meet NASA mission needs that have been transferred to the public. NASA’s Spinoff magazine, where you can read about these discoveries, is the result of a U.S. Congressional mandate which called for the dissemination of NASA research and development to the public. In 1976, NASA transformed what was, until then, an annual report into the publication Spinoff, and it has been issued on an annual basis since then. Back copies of Spinoff, in PDF form, can be downloaded (nwsdy.li/so), or you can do a more in-depth search at Spinoff’s database (nwsdy.li/db). NASA also offers a free app with video to accompany the 2015 issue (nwsdy.li/soapp).