On the same day that Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in space, emerged from his protective packaging onboard the International Space Station, its twin entertained a crowd back on Earth at the annual NASA Technology Day on Capitol Hill. Developed jointly by NASA and General Motors, Robonaut 2 (R2) is a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans--whether astronauts in space or workers in U.S. manufacturing plants. R2 also is a powerful example of the benefits of NASA partnerships and technology.
R2 was one of 15 innovative technologies displayed at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington on March 15, showcasing a range of NASA technologies that are improving life for people on Earth. Held each year to inform Congress and the public about the secondary benefits of NASA partnerships and technology, the 2011 event featured innovations in areas ranging from solar power to medical ultrasound.
The spirit of NASA Technology Day has its roots in the 1958 Space Act that created NASA, mandating that the agency transfer as much of its technology as possible for the benefit of the public. The transfer, application, and commercialization of NASA-funded technology can occur in many ways--through knowledge sharing, technical assistance, intellectual property licensing, cooperative research and technology projects, and other forms of partnership.
Since 1976, NASA's annual Spinoff publication has documented more than 1,700 spinoff technologies, some of which were on display at NASA Technology Day. One such example, a medical ultrasound diagnostic technique for long-distance use, was derived from NASA's Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) experiment, conducted to develop ways of diagnosing certain medical conditions in space.
A related device developed by Mediphan, a Canadian company with operations in Springfield, NJ, allows people with minimal medical training to send diagnostic-quality ultrasound images and video to medical professionals via the Internet in near-real time. Professional sports teams, Olympians, mountain climbers, and communities in remote locations have all received medical attention from distant doctors using the technology.
Other NASA spinoffs featured at NASA Technology Day included environmental technologies such as NASA's most-licensed technology to date, Emulsified Zero-Valent Iron (EZVI). EZVI originated with the cleaning of contaminated groundwater at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Today, it neutralizes toxic chemicals in groundwater around the world. Also on display was a bacteria-based technology developed for water purification in space by Micro-Bac International of Round Rock, Texas. The microbial solutions are now being used to treat wastewater and oil spills, such as the 2010 spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to enhancing the nation's health and environment, NASA technology also is enhancing public safety. With the help of NASA funding, BRS Aerospace of St. Paul, MN, developed a rocket-powered parachute that deploys in less than one second to bring small aircraft safely to the ground. To date, this technology has saved more than 260 lives.
"What NASA does on behalf of the American people is reaching new heights," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who spoke at the event.
Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, Representative Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania, and NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun all spoke about the ways that NASA technology contributes to a happier and healthier society.
"The innovators' stories are just tremendous," said Braun. "They believe in the new products and services and societal benefits they are creating, and NASA is with them in that belief."
Other exhibits of innovations that are still in development and testing included an early cataract detection technique, a 3-D camera instrument to assist in brain surgery, a one-of-a-kind manufacturing technique, an engine nozzle to quiet aircraft noise, and highly efficient solar power technology. Also on display were examples of successful NASA partnerships that have resulted in innovative space technology, including a solar sail, rendezvous and docking technology, smart phone technology for satellites, and an inflatable aerodynamic decelerator.
"By making these investments in technology, NASA is helping the nation remain a technological leader," said Braun. "It's a global, economic, and technological competition. For this country to stay at the forefront of that competition, we have to make investments in that technology--like those that NASA is making."
NASA Astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Colonel Doug Wheelock toured NASA Technology Day and relayed fascinating stories about life on the International Space Station and the tremendous value of space technology. Wheelock expressed his appreciation for space research and technology that bring spinoff applications to Earth.
"Knowing that we have a future in space exploration and developing science onboard the Space Station," said Wheelock, "we can bring it back home and put it to work here to make all of our lives better."
To learn more about how NASA technology has moved into the marketplace and contributed to NASA Missions and the Nation, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/success/index.html
For more information about NASA's Spinoff publication, visit: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto