Let’s take a look at just a sampling of the latest NASA technology used for space and see what it is also able to do for humans here on Earth.
Sterilizing an ambulance
Bacteria and human cells, from previous emergency visits earlier in the day, in an ambulance interior, on equipment, bags, surfaces and EMT’s clothing can be a potential for spreading disease no matter how well they may clean up after a visit. Of course, medical responders practice good hand hygiene: wash their hands, always making sure to wear gloves. Unfortunately, many times there is no accompanying protocol for cleaning the ambulance or medical equipment after a call. (Such sterilizing systems do exist in hospital operating rooms, but cost $50,000 or more—not an option that EMS departments could afford)
(Image courtesy of NASA)
NASA technology used for the International Space Station (ISS) Solar Array Thermal blanket which helps power the ISS is made from a light polymer which breaks down when exposed to atomic oxygen and subsequently creates carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide gas—-these blankets wouldn’t last more than 6 months on Earth orbit.
NASA developed a coating to protect the blankets from atomic oxygen and these blankets have been functioning for more than 15 years now.
Scientists noted that the coating that protected the polymer was made from Silicon Dioxide where oxygen atoms are already bonded to other atoms. This meant that atomic oxygen could not react with anything because of this—it actually provides a barrier. As a result of this knowledge, the destructive properties of atomic oxygen could be harnessed for sterilizing. The reason behind this is that atomic oxygen removes any hydrocarbons from surfaces and the infectious materials, like cells and cell walls, that may be left on surfaces are loaded with carbon. Even dead cells will react with atomic oxygen. Therefore, atomic oxygen is a very effective sterilizing agent.
How can we use this technology knowledge in an ambulance? NASA Technology Transfer program gave a company, called Emergency Products + Research (EP+R), the solution for which chemical agent to use in their idea of a machine that could spray a sterilizing chemical in a fog or a mist inside an ambulance.
(Image courtesy of NASA)
Laurel Stauber, senior program specialist at NASA Glenn’s office of Technology Incubation and Innovation helped them set up a testing protocol to see what impact, if any, the sterilizing process had on the sensitive electrical equipment on the ambulance and helped EP+R find scientific literature that would answer their questions. Their mist was a solution consisting of water, peracetic acid, and hydrogen peroxide. Peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide are both excellent disinfectants, and mixed together in a solution tend to be more stable and work at lower concentrations.
Sounds like a science fiction character?
“Spidernaut” is actually part of a team of robots that were designed at Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX to autonomously assemble a solar array on the Moon. A Vecna Technologies senior research scientist, Fred Heger, developed a system to ensure the robots completed the tasks in the optimal order.
“Spidernaut” (Image courtesy of NASA)
Spidernaut was replicated so that multiple such robots could complete entire, dangerous operations from start to finish without human intervention. This technology has transferred to warehouses and beyond where these robots, designed to climb a truss which supported a solar array while carrying flat panels to be installed. Modeling the movements of a spider proved to be the most optimum design to handle such a job.
A second “spider” robot was designed with six-limbs so it could fasten joints using torque tools. Then a third robot was designed with a camera that was mounted on a thin tendril-like limb. The software for all three robots made all the difference.
In the future, there can be many basic robot drivers with a robot supervisor to tell them where to go and what to do—that’s the magic of software.
Vecna used their expertise which was built on NASA projects, and has built an “autonomy kit” for commercial warehouse equipment to automate, for example, package handling. Software programming coordinates the robot’s tasks to ensure packages are moved through the warehouse in the most efficient possible manner.
Vecna’s “autonomy kit” that automates warehouse operations and can move packages efficiently. (Image courtesy of NASA)
Retrain your Circadian Rhythm
About 3% of adults, or seven million drivers, had fallen asleep behind the wheel—a potentially deadly situation. Scientists are discovering that light exposure is one of the major contributors to sleeplessness. It is light exposure as well as the color of the light that can affect our sleep.
Astronauts, especially on the Space Station, have difficulty in having a regular sleep schedule. They do not experience a normal 24-hour day/night light cycle as we do on Earth. (Image courtesy of NASA)
NASA funds the National Space Biomedical Research Institute for groundbreaking studies that help us understand how artificial light can be used to retrain circadian rhythms. The human eye has image-forming rods and cones, but also a third photoreceptor that affects circadian rhythms, which are photosensitive retinal ganglion cells. Even blind subjects in test cases showed that exposure to short-wave blue light suppressed their melatonin levels and caused alertness. Blue wavelengths are plentiful in daylight and they cause suppression of melatonin which resets circadian rhythm that controls our sleep and wakefulness.
Many studies were done to help astronauts sleep well on the Space Station and out of this came tunable LED lighting modules and a technology transfer to a company called Circadia, founded by Fares Siddiqui, took this technology a step further using a biofeedback loop that was based on light exposure affecting a person’s sleep patterns and on the individual users’ responses to light exposure. Each of us responds to light exposure a bit differently when it comes to our sleep patterns.
(Image courtesy of NASA)
The company used a contactless radar technology is a participant’s sleep study room, that would sense the rise and fall of a sleeper’s chest and also the intensity of their movement from eight feet away. This sleep tracker, thanks to proprietary machine-learning algorithms, was able to detect the sleep stage in which the person was in with a 92% accuracy.
This was fed into a Smartphone app based upon software from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital which provides a link between the sleep tracker and a portable light therapy device nearby mostly composed of short, blue wavelengths that suppress Melatonin during waking hours and just before bedtime, a longer wavelength reddish light that stops the prevention of melatonin production at bedtime.
NASA Drones for smarter fighting of forest fires
After the devastation in 2017 from massive forest fires in California this year, we became aware of a NASA technology that could help fire fighters predict the path of a fire depending upon wind and other factors. Sensors on a drone can monitor a fire and give a broad view of what is happening and how/where the fire is spreading in real time.
The drone called “Ikhana”, a Native American Choctaw word meaning intelligent, conscious, or aware is a NASA firefighter “eye in the sky”. (Image courtesy of NASA)
Pilots in the Ground Control Station (GCS) are a team where one pilot will fly the drone while the other assists with communications and checklists and will serve as a relief pilot if necessary. (Image courtesy of NASA)
NASA Ames engineers load the Autonomous Modular Scanner into the Ikhana unmanned aircraft’s payload pod. (Image courtesy of NASA)
Ikhana is the eyes for ground firefighters to battle the blaze effectively and efficiently.
This is only a tiny sampling of NASA's Spinoff technology that benefits planet Earth. See many more spinoffs here.