Aeronautics and Space Report of the President FY 1995 Activities

Space Flight and Space Technology

Technology Transfer

In FY 1995, NASA released the "Agenda for Change," a comprehensive policy document that sets out a new way of doing business for NASA's transfer of technology to the private sector. NASA also established a new national computer system to track the technology transfer potential of NASA programs.

The following are just two of 1995's hundreds of instances of NASA's ongoing efforts to foster and transfer space and aeronautics technologies with secondary applications in the private sector:

  • NASA's Langley Research Center (LaRC) introduced a new technology to reduce lives lost from carbon monoxide poisoning. LaRC granted licenses for a NASA low temperature carbon monoxide oxidation catalyst technology for specific commercial applications to three different companies. NASA engineers and scientists developed these catalysts to provide a capability for recycling carbon monoxide produced during the operation of closed-cycle carbon dioxide lasers in space environments. This technology recombines carbon monoxide, a potentially lethal gas to humans, and oxygen into carbon dioxide, a comparably harmless gas.

  • Firefighters and other emergency rescue workers now have access to a new generation of emergency rescue equipment that weighs 70 percent less and is 70 percent cheaper than other similar rescue equipment. Hi-Shear Technology Corporation, using NASA technology, completed the development of a new generation of lightweight, hand-held, emergency rescue equipment specifically designed to allow for the rapid removal of auto accident victims. The Lifeshear incorporated NASA-developed pyrotechnical technology called the initiator or power unit. As the industry leader in developing pyrotechnic-actuated thrusters, explosive bolts, separation nuts, pin pullers, and cutters, Hi-Shear has supplied these items for nearly all of NASA's major deep-space missions over the past 23 years. The Lifeshear cutters weigh less than 15 pounds, are about 2 feet long, take about 30 seconds to set up, and require no pumps or motors for operation. In 1995, the Lifeshear cutter was used at the site of the Oklahoma City Federal Building disaster. After this successful use, FEMA immediately ordered 40 of the cutters and 7,000 of the initiators/power units. FEMA has also recommended the purchase of the Lifeshear cutters by all urban search-and-rescue groups throughout the United States.

FY 1995 also saw significant progress in NASA's ongoing efforts to develop and transfer technology with biomedical applications. Early in the fiscal year, NASA began a cooper ative effort with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to exploit NASA's bioreactor technology. This effort has developed into a highly successful transfer of technology and expertise. Other NIH researchers have been using NASA technology to grow cultures of human lymph tissue to study the infectivity of the virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. NASA expanded on this activity by awarding grants to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia to transfer this technology to university researchers.

Working with technologies developed by the Ames Research Center (ARC), pediatric surgeons at the University of California at San Francisco initiated a program to use NASA-developed biosensor and telemetry technology to monitor the condition of fetuses with life-threatening congenital conditions. Ames shared its innovative technologies with surgeons at the university's Fetal Treatment Center, which expects to develop additional life-saving medical procedures because of its collaboration with ARC.

With support from the NSF, medical doctors and astronomers from Georgetown University, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Johns Hopkins University formed a collaboration to apply computer software, originally crafted for HST, to look at the heavens for scanning digitized mammograms. Over recent decades, the processing of astronomical images has become very sophisticated, spawning techniques to reconstruct and filter images, as well as to detect faint objects. The collaborative project got its start when scientists realized that stars in the sky look remarkably similar to the signs of breast cancer, called microcalcifications, for which radiologists search. After having a radiologist point out the microcalcifications in two mammograms, a team of astronomers was able to find the signs of cancer in the other two images without being shown. Project scientists then proceeded to scan more mammograms to assess the utility of the technique on a broader scale and possibly use the software to detect other types of cancers.

Also in the area of breast cancer screening, NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications teamed with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to cosponsor applied research and development projects designed to lead to new digital imaging techniques for the early detection of breast cancer. Innovative breast cancer imaging techniques that were recently selected from a NASA/NCI competitive solicitation are expected to lead to highly effective, low-cost diagnostic technologies. NASA scientists also initiated a partnership with the University of South Florida to use advanced signal detection techniques originally developed under the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence program for computer-aided breast tumor detection, which shows great promise for detecting tumors very early in their development at a low cost.

Rescue Worker Holding New Rescue Equipment

Rescue workers now have access to a new type of emergency rescue equipment that is lightweight and relatively inexpensive. The Lifeshear cutter incorporates NASA-developed pyrotechnical technology to allow for the rapid removal of auto accident victims. In FY 1995, the Lifeshear was used successfully at the site of the Oklahoma City Federal Building disaster.

The Biocomputation Center at NASA's ARC developed new computer methods for the three-dimensional reconstruction and visualization of inner ear balance organs based on very thin tissue slices. Discoveries associated with this work included the facts that balance organs are organized as simple representations of the brain and that sites of communication between neurons change when their environments are altered. Researchers also used the technique to visualize neurochemical systems in the developing and adult brain and to study how the brain learns by observing the changes in neurons during the learning process. Surgeons at Stanford University collaborated with NASA to use visualization software to develop virtual reality tools for planning surgery on children with craniofacial defects and for training surgeons.

In the industrial arena, General Motors (GM) and the University of Wisconsin conducted tests in the NASA Lewis Research Center (LeRC) 2.2-second drop tower to improve their understanding of droplet vaporization at high pressure, a process highly relevant to internal combustion engine operation. GM researchers were dissatisfied with their previous understanding of the fundamental nature of vaporization under high-pressure conditions and believed that only low-gravity testing would provide insight and basic data needed to improve their internal combustion engine designs.

NASA developed a stereo imaging velocimetry system for fluid physics experiments for use by a steel producer. NASA set up a Space Act Agreement with LTV Steel to study fluid flow for LTV's continuous casting processes. Using the stereo imaging velocimetry technology, LTV was able to analyze imperfections in the continuous casting processes and to determine which type of nozzle design to use to produce steel with fewer flow-induced defects.

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Curator: Lillian Gipson
Last Updated: September 5, 1996
For more information contact Steve Garber, NASA History Office,