All posts by Lucy Ingham

In Pictures: NASA Technologies in the Wild

NASA, the US space agency, has undertaken a phenomenal amount of research at a host of institutions to further its work in space.

However, a remarkable number of technologies have sprung out of NASA research that have found their way into other applications. So many, in fact, that NASA produces an annual report of when its technologies have ended up.

This year’s report, entitled Spinoff 2013, was released yesterday, and includes examples in everything from health and safety to transportation and energy.

Here we highlight some of the latest products and innovations made with NASA technology.

ICON A5 Aircraft


NASA technology has contributed to the development of spin-resistant aircraft, such as the ICON A5. NASA undertook 8,000 stall-spins in special test aircraft to develop the spin-resistance standards for the Federal Aviation Administration, the US’ flight regulators. The ICON A5 has been designed to meet these standards for consumer recreational flying.

“We wanted to design a plane that was spin-resistant,” said Kirk Hawkins, founder and CEO of ICON. “If it wasn’t for the NASA work, there would be no FAA standard, and we wouldn’t have done this.”

Image courtesy of ICON Aircraft.

 Helpful Robots


The development of the International Space Station’s robotic crew member, Robonaut, at its successor, Robonaut 2, at Johnson Space Center resulted in the development of robot reasoning and interaction technology. This has been reworked for use in fields including warehousing and mining by Universal Robotics in the form of a technology called Neocortex.

“We found there might be some really good approaches for teaching robots and letting them learn and develop capabilities on their own, rather than having to hard program everything,” said Johnson Space Center automation and robotics engineer Robert Ambrose.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Airocide Air Purifier


Through Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA funded the University of Madison-Wisconsin to develop ethylene scrubbers that were designed to keep food fresh in space. But the technology has been developed for another use here on earth by Akida Holdings – as an airborne pathogen-killing air purifier that you can have in your home.

“In two days, you’ll notice how the bedroom just feels different. And as you get the chance to breathe in the air, you’ll start feeling better physically. You’re going to wake up feeling refreshed,” said Akida Holdings vice president Barney Freedman.

Image courtesy of Airocide.

High-Tech Workwear


The technology designed to keep astronauts’ gloves at a comfortable temperature has been appropriated for temperature-responsive clothing that can remove moisture and control odours and bacterial growth. The Apollo shirt from Ministry of Supply is one of a range of clothes using phase-changing materials to keep you smart but comfy throughout the day. The company, which is co-founded by NASA glove designer Gihan Amarasiriwardena, funded Apollo through Kickstarter, raising $430,000 in the process.

“We are different from the rest of the fashion industry because we are not about releasing new products every season. We are about putting a lot of thought, engineering, and great design into each garment before we launch it,” says Amarasiriwardena. “It’s performance wear designed to be office-wear appropriate.”

Image courtesy of Ministry of Supply.

Remote Control


The Kennedy Space Center collaborated with spacecraft software engineers Blue Sun Enterprises to develop improvements to virtual machine language (VML), which is used to control remote devices such as unmanned or manned spacecraft. After proving itself on the RESOLVE mission, the technology has spread to use in commercial applications, and can be used to improve control of weather balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, and submarines.

“Any application that requires remote autonomy could use VML to implement that autonomy and decision-making,” said VML author Dr Chris Grasso.

End to Being Old? The Mission to Make 90 the Next 50

By the time you reach your twilight years, being 90 could be barely any age at all. If the Methuselah Foundation succeeds, from 2030 reaching your ninth decade could be no more remarkable than turning 50, with the same level of associated health and fitness.

The organisation is focused on keeping people feeling healthy far later into their lives, which is a serious challenge given the array of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and age-related illnesses that can affect you as you mature.

The solution lies in the advancement of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, fields that focus on improving or repairing parts of the body ranging from complete organs to individual cells.


Regenerative medicine is somewhat of a holy grail in the wider industry.

The National Institutes of Health, the US Government biomedical research organisation, described its potential impact on humanity: “Imagine a world where there is no donor organ shortage, where victims of spinal cord injuries can walk, and where weakened hearts are replaced. This is the long-term promise of regenerative medicine.”

Methuselah believes that the advancement of this field will lead to cures to the major conditions that hit in old age; everything from heart disease and diabetes to kidney failure and alzheimer’s.


Methuselah is putting some serious cash into the field to fund research in these fields as it believes not enough is currently being done to further regenerative medicine.

The organisation cites US federal spending as proof of this – tissue engineering gets only $500m per year next to cancer’s $5bn and HIV/AIDS’ $3bn.

At the forefront of the organisation’s research is the New Organ prize – a $1m award for the first team to create a fully-functioning bioengineered replacement liver for a large mammal.

The competition is open to teams from all over the world, and runs until 2018. Soon to follow are similar prizes for the heart, lungs and kidney, which means that if the competitions are successful organ donation could become a thing of the past.


The Foundation also has a number of other projects up its sleeves. It has provided funding for the development of personalised cancer treatments, the genomic sequencing of 200 year old bowhead whales and prizes for increasing longevity in mice.

Methuselah has also partnered with 3D tissue printing  biotech company Organovo to supply bioprinters to researchers working on tissue engineering, which will bring the breakthrough technology of tissue bioprinting to mainstream research.

Organovo is furthering the field itself – yesterday it announced that it had started contracting for toxicity testing using 3D human liver tissue that the company has developed, which could be valuable new approach to drug development that significantly speeds up the process.

Featured image courtesy of Jonathan Kos-Read.
Body images courtesy of Neil Moralee, Vinoth Chandar and Organovo.