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Posted on February 3rd, 2015

Out of This World – Spin-Offs of 2015

As another years has come to a close it’s time for NASA to release the 2015 edition of Spin-Off. Every year, NASA releases Spin-Off to highlight how space exploration has enriched the lives of people in ways that have very little to do with space. The advanced technologies that send humans hurdling through our atmosphere have broad applications in everyday life. If they don’t tell you what they are, then you will never know how tax payer money going into NASA is flowing right back into commercial endeavors and innovation. Today, I’ll give you a little run through of a few of my favorites.

Check out this NASA introduction to the 2015 version of Spin-Off. (Video Credit: NASA)

I sincerely hope that no one will ever need this tool, but in the unfortunate event that you need brain surgery, you can thank the Nano and Micro Systems Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and brain surgeon Dr. Hrayr Shahinian. Using an endoscope for brain surgery started in the 1990s to drastically reduce the risks involved and recovery time. An endoscope uses a tiny camera and small tools that are inserted into a hole in the skull for brain surgery. Dr. Shahinian looked to improve the effectiveness of endoscopy by finding a way to capture 3D images with the camera instead of 2D. With only 2-dimensions, it is difficult to get a sense of depth and to see how close a tumor is to vital parts of the brain, for example. So the scientists at JPL came up with a two aperture system that takes two images that are then run through software. The output is an image that allows the surgeon to use glasses to see the affected area in three dimensions, hopefully making brain surgery even less risky and more effective.

But wait, there’s more! Dr. Shahinian also wanted the new camera to move from side-to-side as all existing endoscopes are fixed in a specific direction while in use. The team was able to create a joint that turns 60 degrees in either direction and is controlled by a joystick. It’s amazing how compact technology is getting as all the controls, wires, light and camera can be affixed in a single small tube. As you can imagine, there isn’t a lot of space to work with inside the skull and real estate is limited. The new endoscope should be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in early 2015 and be ready for use shortly thereafter. While this is a great innovation for brain surgery, many other surgical fields use endoscopy and will benefit from this new technology. At the same time, NASA can use similar instrumentation on landers and the International Space Station (ISS) to peer into tight corners and to work on hard to reach electrical systems.

Earthquake prone areas have benefited from technology used in the Apollo mission. The fluidic dampers created during the mission are now being used to absorb the shock of earthquakes in large buildings, saving lives and structures. They were originally created to control the swing arms on the gantry, the large structure that sits next to the spacecraft before launch, supplying the craft with gases and electrical signals. As the spacecraft takes off, the swinging arms break away and spring back to the gantry at the last minute, such great and sudden force required a shock isolation system, and thus the fluidic dampers were conceived. They are now installed in hundreds of buildings and bridges, both old and new.

These are just two of the many technological innovations that make an appearance in the 2015 publication of Spin-Off. In brief, you can also read about water quality testing in rural areas, cabin pressure monitors in commercial planes, lasers that see through fire, fog and smoke, a rehabilitation chair and an App for a better night’s sleep.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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