Category: technology

Today is Small Business Saturday, which the U.S. Small Business
Administration (SBA) recognizes as a day to celebrate and support small
businesses and all they do for their communities.



We are proud to partner with small
businesses across the country through NASA’s Small
Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer
(STTR) program
s, which have
funded the research, development and demonstration of innovative space technologies
since 1982. This year, we’ve awarded 571
SBIR/STTR contracts totaling
nearly $180 million to companies who will support our future exploration:

  • Techshot, Inc. was selected to bioprint micro-organs in a
    zero-gravity environment
    for research and testing of organs-on-chip devices, which simulate
    the physiological functions of body organs at a miniature scale for health
    research without the need for expensive tests or live subjects.
  • CertainTech, Inc., with the George Washington University, will
    demonstrate an improved water recovery system for restoring nontoxic water from
    wastewater using nanotechnology.
  • Electrochem, Inc. was contracted to create a compact and lightweight regenerative fuel cell system that can store energy from
    an electrolyzer during the lunar day to be used for operations during
    the lunar night.



Small businesses are also developing
technologies for the Artemis missions to the Moon and for human and robotic
exploration of Mars. As we prepare to land the first woman and next man on the
Moon by 2024, these are just a few of the small businesses working with us to
make it happen.

Commercial Lunar Payload Delivery

Masten Space Systems, Astrobotic and Tyvak
Nano-Satellite Systems
are three NASA SBIR/STTR alumni now eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar
surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts. Other small
businesses selected as CLPS providers include Ceres Robotics, Deep Space
, Intuitive Machines, Moon Express, and Orbit Beyond. Under the Artemis program, these
companies could land robotic missions on the Moon to perform science
experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to help the
human exploration that will follow. The first delivery could be as early
as July 2021.


A Pathfinder CubeSat

One cornerstone of our return to the
Moon is a small spaceship called Gateway that
will orbit our nearest neighbor to provide more access to the lunar
surface. SBIR/STTR alum Advanced Space
will develop a CubeSat that
will test out the lunar orbit planned for Gateway, demonstrating how to enter
into and operate in the unique orbit. The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning
System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) could launch as early
as December 2020.


Point for Moon to Mars

We selected 14
as part of our Tipping
Point solicitation
, which fosters the development of critical, industry-led
space capabilities for our future missions. These small businesses all proposed
unique technologies that could benefit the Artemis program.

Many of these small businesses are also
NASA SBIR/STTR alumni whose Tipping Point awards are related to their SBIR or
STTR awards. For example, Infinity Fuel
Cell and Hydrogen, Inc.
(Infinity Fuel) will develop a power and energy
product that could be used for lunar rovers, surface equipment, and habitats.
This technology stems from a new type of fuel cell that Infinity Fuel developed
with the help of NASA SBIR/STTR awards.

and Astrobotic are also small businesses whose Tipping Point award can
be traced back to technology developed through the NASA SBIR/STTR program. CU
Aerospace will build a CubeSat with two different propulsion systems, which
will offer high performance at a low cost, and Astrobotic will develop small
rover “scouts” that can host payloads and interface with landers on the lunar


Businesses, Big Impact

This is just a handful of the small
businesses supporting our journey back to the Moon and on to Mars, and just a taste
of how they impact the economy and American innovation. We are grateful for the
contributions that small businesses make—though they be but “small,” they are

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If you need to fix something on Earth, you could go to a store, buy the tools you need, and get started. In space, it’s not that easy.


Aside from the obvious challenges associated with space (like it being cold and there being no gravity), developing the right tools requires a great deal of creativity because every task is different, especially when the tools need to be designed from scratch. From the time an engineer dreams up the right tools to the time they are used in space, it can be quite a process.

On Nov. 15, astronauts Luca Parmitano and Drew Morgan began a series of spacewalks to repair an instrument called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-2) on the exterior of the International Space Station. The first of four spacewalk focused on using specialized tools to remove shields and covers, to gain access to the heart of AMS to perform the repairs, and install a new cooling system.


The debris shield that covered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer floats away toward Earth as astronaut Drew Morgan successfully releases it.

Once repaired, AMS will continue to help us understand more about the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.

These spacewalks, or extravehicular activities (EVAs), are the most complex of their kind since the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. AMS is particularly challenging to repair not only because of the instrument’s complexity and sensitivity, but also because it was never designed to be fixed. Because of this design, it does not have the kinds of interfaces that make spacewalks easier, or the ability to be operated on with traditional multi-purpose tools. These operations are so complex, their design and planning has taken four years. Let’s take a look at how we got ready to repair AMS.


Thinking Outside of the (Tool) Box

When designing the tools, our engineers need to keep in mind various complications that would not come into play when fixing something on Earth. For example, if you put a screw down while you’re on Earth, gravity will keep it there — in space, you have to consistently make sure each part is secure or it will float away. You also have to add a pressurized space suit with limited dexterity to the equation, which further complicates the tool design.


In addition to regular space complications, the AMS instrument itself presents many challenges — with over 300,000 data channels, it was considered too complex to service and therefore was not designed to one day be repaired or updated if needed. Additionally, astronauts have never before cut and reconnected micro-fluid lines (4 millimeters wide, less than the width of the average pencil) during a spacewalk, which is necessary to repair AMS, so our engineers had to develop the tools for this big first. 


With all of this necessary out-of-the-box thinking, who better to go to for help than the teams that worked on the most well-known repair missions — the Hubble servicing missions and the space station tool teams? Building on the legacy of these missions, some of our same engineers that developed tools for the Hubble servicing missions and space station maintenance got to work designing the necessary tools for the AMS repair, some reworked from Hubble, and some from scratch. In total, the teams from Goddard Space Flight Center’s Satellite Servicing Projects Division, Johnson Space Center, and AMS Project Office developed 21 tools for the mission.

Designing and Building

Like many great inventions, it all starts with a sketch. Engineers figure out what steps need to be taken to accomplish the task, and imagine the necessary tools to get the job done.

From there, engineers develop a computer-aided design (CAD) model, and get to building a prototype. Tools will then undergo multiple iterations and testing with the AMS repair team and astronauts to get the design just right, until eventually, they are finalized, ready to undergo vibration and thermal vacuum testing to make sure they can withstand the harsh conditions of launch and use in the space environment. 

Hex Head Capture Tool Progression:


Hex Head Capture Tool Used in Space: 


Practice Makes Perfect

One of the reasons the AMS spacewalks have been four years in the making is because the complexity of the repairs required the astronauts to take extra time to practice. Over many months, astronauts tasked with performing the spacewalks practiced the AMS repair procedures in numerous ways to make sure they were ready for action. They practiced in:  

Virtual reality simulations:


The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory:


The Active Response Gravity Offload System (ARGOS):


Astronauts use this testing to develop and practice procedures in space-like conditions, but also to figure out what works and doesn’t work, and what changes need to be made. A great example is a part of the repair that involves cutting and reconnecting fluid lines. When astronauts practiced cutting the fluid lines during testing here on Earth, they found it was difficult to identify which was the right one to cut based on sight alone. 

The tubes on the AMS essentially look the same.


After discussing the concern with the team monitoring the EVAs, the engineers once again got to work to fix the problem.


And thus, the Tube Cutting Guide tool was born! Necessity is the mother of invention and the team could not have anticipated the astronauts would need such a tool until they actually began practicing. The Tube Cutting Guide provides alignment guides, fiducials and visual access to enable astronauts to differentiate between the tubes. After each of eight tubes is cut, a newly designed protective numbered cap is installed to cover the sharp tubing.


Off to Space


With the tools and repair procedures tested and ready to go, they launched to the International Space Station earlier this year. Now they’re in the middle of the main event – Luca and Drew completed the first spacewalk last Friday, taking things apart to access the interior of the AMS instrument. Currently, there are three other spacewalks scheduled over the course of a month. The next spacewalk will happen on Nov. 22 and will put the Tube Cutting Guide to use when astronauts reconnect the tubes to a new cooling system.

With the ingenuity of our tool designers and engineers, and our astronauts’ vigorous practice, AMS will be in good hands.


Check out the full video for the first spacewalk. Below you can check out each of the Goddard tools above in action in space!

Debris Shield Worksite:
2:29:16 – Debris Shield Handling Aid
2:35:25 – Hex Head Capture Tool (first)
2:53:31 – #10 Allen Bit
2:54:59 – Capture Cages
3:16:35 – #10 Allen Bit (diagonal side)
3:20:58 – Socket Head Capture Tool
3:33:35 – Hex Head Capture Tool (last)
3:39:35 – Fastener Capture Block
3:40:55 – Debris Shield removal
3:46:46 – Debris Shield jettison

Vertical Support Beam (VSB) Worksite:
5:15:27 – VSB Cover Handling Aid
5:18:05 – #10 Allen Bit
5:24:34 – Socket Head Capture Tool
5:41:54 – VSB Cover breaking
5:45:22 – VSB Cover jettison
5:58:20 – Top Spacer Tool & M4 Allen Bit
6:08:25 – Top Spacer removal
7:42:05 – Astronaut shoutout to the tools team

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This week, we’re celebrating National Composites Week, which CompositesWorld says is about shedding some light on how “composite materials and composites manufacturing contributes to the products and structures that shape the American manufacturing landscape today.”


What exactly are composites and why are we talking about them?

Composites are building materials that we use to make airplanes, spacecraft and structures or instruments, such as space telescopes. But why are they special?

Composites consist of two or more materials, similar to a sandwich. Each ingredient in a sandwich could be eaten individually, but combining them is when the real magic happens. Sure, you could eat a few slices of cold cheese chased with some floppy bread. But real talk: buttery, toasted bread stuffed with melty, gooey Gouda makes a grilled cheese a much more satisfying nosh.

With composites—like our sandwich—the different constituent parts each have special properties that are enhanced when combined. Take carbon fibers which are strong and rigid. Their advantage compared to other structural materials is that they are much lighter than metals like steel and aluminum. However, in order to build structures with carbon fibers, they have to be held together by another material, which is referred to as a matrix. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer is a composite consisting of carbon fibers set in a plastic matrix, which yields an extremely strong, lightweight, high-performing material for spacecraft.

Composites can also be found on the James Webb Space Telescope. They support the telescope’s beryllium mirrors, science instruments and thermal control systems and must be exquisitely stable to keep the segments aligned.


We invest in a variety of composite technology research to advance the use of these innovative materials in things like fuel tanks on spacecraft, trusses or structures and even spacesuits. Here are a few exciting ways our Space Technology Mission Directorate is working with composites:

Deployable structures on small spacecraft

We’re developing deployable composite booms for future deep space small satellite missions. These new structures are being designed to meet the unique requirements of small satellites, things like the ability to be packed into very small volumes and stored for long periods of time without getting distorted.

A new project, led by our Langley Research Center and Ames Research Center, called the Advanced Composite Solar Sail System will test deployment of a composite boom solar sail system in low-Earth orbit. This mission will demonstrate the first use of composite booms for a solar sail in orbit as well as new sail packing and deployment systems.


Nano (teeny tiny) composites

We are working alongside 11 universities, two companies and the Air Force Research Laboratory through the Space Technology Research Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP). The institute is receiving $15 million over five years to accelerate carbon nanotube technologies for ultra-high strength, lightweight aerospace structural materials. This institute engages 22 professors from universities across the country to conduct modeling and experimental studies of carbon nanotube materials on an atomistic molecular level, macro-scale and in between. Through collaboration with industry partners, it is anticipated that advances in laboratories could quickly translate to advances in manufacturing facilities that will yield sufficient amounts of advanced materials for use in NASA missions.

Through Small Business Innovative Research contracts, we’ve also invested in Nanocomp Technologies, Inc., a company with expertise in carbon nanotubes that can be used to replace heavier materials for spacecraft, defense platforms, and other commercial applications.


Nanocomp’s Miralon™ YM yarn is made up of pure carbon nanotube fibers that can be used in a variety of applications to decrease weight and provide enhanced mechanical and electrical performance. Potential commercial use for Miralon yarn includes antennas, high frequency digital/signal and radio frequency cable applications and embedded electronics. Nanocomp worked with Lockheed Martin to integrate Miralon sheets into our Juno spacecraft.


Composites for habitats

At last spring’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge the top two teams used composite materials in their winning habitat submissions. The multi-phase competition challenged teams to 3D print one-third scale shelters out of recyclables and materials that could be found on deep space destinations, like the Moon and Mars.

After 30 hours of 3D-printing over four days of head-to-head competition, the structures were subjected to several tests and evaluated for material mix, leakage, durability and strength. New York-based AI. SpaceFactory won first place using a polylactic acid plastic, similar to materials available for Earth-based, high-temperature 3D printers.


This material was infused with micro basalt fibers as well, and the team was awarded points during judging because major constituents of the polylactic acid material could be extracted from the Martian atmosphere.


Second place was awarded to Pennsylvania State University who utilized a mix of Ordinary Portland Cement, a small amount of rapid-set concrete, and basalt fibers, with water.


These innovative habitat concepts will not only further our deep space exploration goals, but could also provide viable housing solutions right here on Earth.

Student research in composites

We are also supporting the next generation of engineers, scientists and technologists working on composites through our Space Technology Research Grants. Some recently awarded NASA Space Technology Fellows—graduate students performing groundbreaking, space technology research on campus, in labs and at NASA centers—are studying the thermal conductivity of composites and an optimized process for producing carbon nanotubes and clean energy.

We work with composites in many different ways in pursuit of our exploration goals and to improve materials and manufacturing for American industry. If you are a company looking to participate in National Composites Week, visit:

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The Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at our Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the only facility where assembly of a rocket occurred that carried humans beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon. For 30 years, its facilities and assets were used during the Space Shuttle Program and are now available to commercial partners as part of our agency’s plan in support of a multi-user spaceport. To celebrate the VAB’s continued contribution to humanity’s space exploration endeavors, we’ve put together five out-of-this-world facts for you!

1. It’s one of the largest buildings in the world by area, the VAB covers eight acres, is 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide.


Aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building with a mobile launch tower atop a crawler transporter approaching the building. 

2. The VAB was constructed for the assembly of the Apollo/Saturn V Moon rocket, the largest rocket made by humans at the time.


An Apollo/Saturn V facilities Test Vehicle and Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) atop a crawler-transporter move from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on the way to Pad A on May 25, 1966. 

3. The building is home to the largest American flag, a 209-foot-tall, 110-foot-wide star spangled banner painted on the side of the VAB.


Workers painting the Flag on the Vehicle Assembly Building on January 2, 2007.

4. The tallest portions of the VAB are its 4 high bays. Each has a 456-foot-high door. The doors are the largest in the world and take about 45 minutes to open or close completely.


A mobile launcher, atop crawler-transporter 2, begins the move into High Bay 3 at the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on Sept. 8, 2018.

5. After spending more than 50 years supporting our human spaceflight programs, the VAB received its first commercial tenant – Northrop Grumman Corporation – on August 16, 2019!


A model of Northrop Grumman’s OmegA launch vehicle is flanked by the U.S. flag and a flag bearing the OmegA logo during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 16 in High Bay 2 of the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Whether the rockets and spacecraft are going into Earth orbit or being sent into deep space, the VAB will have the infrastructure to prepare them for their missions.  

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Fires are some of the most dynamic and dramatic natural phenomena. They can change rapidly, burning natural landscapes and human environments alike. Fires are a natural part of many of Earth’s ecosystems, necessary to replenish soil and for healthy plant growth. But, as the planet warms, fires are becoming more intense, burning longer and hotter.


Right now, a fleet of vehicles and a team of scientists are in the field, studying how smoke from those fires affects air quality, weather and climate. The mission? It’s called FIREX-AQ. They’re working from the ground up to the sky to measure smoke, find out what’s in it, and investigate how it affects our lives.


Starting on the ground, the Langley Aerosol Research Group Experiment (LARGE) operates out of a large van. It’s one of two such vans working with the campaign. It looks a little like a food truck, but instead of a kitchen, the inside is packed full of science instruments.


The team drives the van out into the wilderness to take measurements of smoke and tiny particles in the air at the ground level. This is important for a few reasons: First of all, it’s the stuff we’re breathing! It also gives us a look at smoke overnight, when the plumes tend to sink down out of the atmosphere and settle near the ground until temperatures heat back up with the Sun. The LARGE group camps out with their van full of instruments, taking continuous measurements of smoke…and not getting much sleep.


Just a little higher up, NOAA’s Twin Otter aircraft can flit down close to where the fires are actually burning, taking measurements of the smoke and getting a closer look at the fires themselves. The Twin Otters are known as “NOAA’s workhorses” because they’re easily maneuverable and can fly nice and slow to gather measurements, topping out at about 17,000 feet.


Then, sometimes flying at commercial plane height (30,000 feet) and swooping all the way down to 800 feet above the ground, NASA’s DC-8 is packed wing to wing with science instruments. The team onboard the DC-8 is looking at more than 200 different chemicals in the smoke.


The DC-8 does some fancy flying, crisscrossing over the fires in a maneuver called “the lawnmower” and sometimes spiraling down over one vertical column of air to capture smoke and particles at all different heights. Inside, the plane is full of instrument racks and tubing, capturing external air and measuring its chemical makeup. Fun fact: The front bathroom on the DC-8 is closed during science flights to make sure the instruments don’t accidentally measure anything ejected from the plane.


Finally, we make it all the way up to space. We’ve got a few different mechanisms for studying fires already mounted on satellites. Some of the satellites can see where active fires are burning, which helps scientists and first responders keep an eye on large swaths of land.


Some satellites can see smoke plumes, and help researchers track them as they move across land, blown by wind.


Other satellites help us track weather and forecast how the fires might behave. That’s important for keeping people safe, and it helps the FIREX-AQ team know where to fly and drive when they’ll get the most information. These forecasts use computer models, based on satellite observations and data about how fires and smoke behave. FIREX-AQ’s data will be fed back into these models to make them even more accurate.


Learn more about how NASA is studying fires from the field, here.

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As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon landing, remember that many Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, the first person on the Moon, were test pilots who flew experimental planes for NASA in our earliest days. Since long before we landed on the Moon, aeronautics has been a key piece of our mission.


The U.S. founded the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), our predecessor, in 1914. NACA, collaborating with the U.S. Air Force, pioneered the X-1 aircraft, the first crewed plane to achieve supersonic speeds. NACA was largely responsible for turning the slow, cloth-and-wood biplanes of the early 1900s into the sleek, powerful jets of today.

When NACA was absorbed by the newly formed NASA in 1958, we continued NACA’s mission, propelling American innovation in aviation. Today, our portfolio of aeronautics missions and new flight technologies is as robust as ever. Below are seven of our innovations flying out of the lab and into the air, getting you gate-to-gate safely and on time while transforming aviation into an economic engine!

1. X-59 QueSST


Our X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) flies faster than the speed of sound without the window-shattering sonic boom. This innovation may kick off a new generation of quiet, supersonic planes that can fly over land without disturbing those below. Once adopted, QueSST’s technologies could drastically reduce the time it takes to fly across the U.S. and even to other countries worldwide!

2. X-57 Maxwell 


Our X-57 Maxwell will be the first all-electric X-plane, demonstrating the benefits distributed electric propulsion may have for future aviation. The Maxwell is named for Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who is known for his theories on electricity and electromagnetism. The name is also a play on words because, as X-57 engineer Nick Borer said, “It has the maximum number of propellers.”

3. Airborne Science


Our airborne science program provides Earth scientists and astrophysicists with the unique insights that can be gleaned from the air and above the clouds. By flying aircraft with Earth science instruments and advanced telescopes, we can gather high resolution data about our changing Earth and the stars above. Airborne science outreach specialist (and champion aerobatics pilot) Susan Bell highlights Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments Experiment – Air Quality (FIREX-AQ), a joint mission with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“FIREX-AQ will investigate the impact of wildfires and agricultural fires on air quality,” Susan said. “Living in the Western U.S., I witness firsthand the impact that smoke can have on the communities we live in and up in the air as a pilot.”

4. Search and Rescue


Our Search and Rescue (SAR) office serves as the technology development arm of the international satellite-aided search and rescue program, Cospas-Sarsat. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration adopted SAR’s guidance regarding the testing and installation of the NASA-developed beacons required for planes. These recommendations will greatly improve aviation beacon performance and, ultimately, save more lives.

SAR developed the recommendations through crash test research at our Langley Research Center’s gantry in Hampton, Virginia, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trained for the Apollo Moon landing!



Our Mission Adaptive Digital Composite Aerostructure Technologies (MADCAT) team at our Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley uses strong, lightweight carbon fiber composites to design airplane wings that can adapt on the fly. The composite materials are used to create “blocks,” modular units that can be arranged in repeating lattice patterns — the same crisscrossing patterns you might see in a garden fence!



Our Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT) project leverages the agency’s aeronautics expertise to advance vertical flight capabilities in the U.S. The RVLT project helps design and test innovative new vehicle designs, like aircraft that can take off like a helicopter but fly like a plane. Additionally, the project uses computer models of the complex airflow surrounding whirring rotors to design vehicles that make less noise!

7. Moon to Mars


We’re with you when you fly — even on Mars! The 1958 law that established the agency charged us with solving the problems of flight within the atmosphere… but it didn’t say WHICH atmosphere. We’re applying our aeronautics expertise to the thin atmosphere of Mars, developing technologies that will enable flight on the Red Planet. In fact, a small, robotic helicopter will accompany the Mars 2020 rover, becoming the first heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on — err, above — Mars!

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On July 23, 1999, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, the most powerful X-ray telescope ever built, was launched into space. Since then, Chandra has made numerous amazing discoveries, giving us a view of the universe that is largely hidden from view through telescopes that observe in other types of light.


The technology behind X-ray astronomy has evolved at a rapid pace, producing and contributing to many spinoff applications you encounter in day-to-day life. It has helped make advancements in such wide-ranging fields as security monitoring, medicine and bio-medical research, materials processing, semi-conductor and microchip manufacturing and environmental monitoring.

7:00 am: Your hand has been bothering you ever since you caught that ball at the family reunion last weekend. Your doctor decides it would be a good idea for an X-ray to rule out any broken bones. X-rays are sent through your hand and their shadow is captured on a detector behind it. You’re relieved to hear nothing is broken, though your doctor follows up with an MRI to make sure the tendons and ligaments are OK.

Two major developments influenced by X-ray astronomy include the use of sensitive detectors to provide low dose but high-resolution images, and the linkage with digitizing and image processing systems. Because many diagnostic procedures, such as mammographies and osteoporosis scans, require multiple exposures, it is important that each dosage be as low as possible. Accurate diagnoses also depend on the ability to view the patient from many different angles. Image processing systems linked to detectors capable of recording single X-ray photons, like those developed for X-ray astronomy purposes, provide doctors with the required data manipulation and enhancement capabilities. Smaller hand-held imaging systems can be used in clinics and under field conditions to diagnose sports injuries, to conduct outpatient surgery and in the care of premature and newborn babies.


8:00 am: A technician places your hand in a large cylindrical machine that whirs and groans as the MRI is taken. Unlike X-rays that can look at bones and dense structures, MRIs use magnets and short bursts of radio waves to see everything from organs to muscles.

MRI systems are incredibly important for diagnosing a whole host of potential medical problems and conditions. X-ray technology has helped MRIs. For example, one of the instruments developed for use on Chandra was an X-ray spectrometer that would precisely measure the energy signatures over a key range of X-rays. In order to make these observations, this X-ray spectrometer had to be cooled to extremely low temperatures. Researchers at our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland developed an innovative magnet that could achieve these very cold temperatures using a fraction of the helium that other similar magnets needed, thus extending the lifetime of the instrument’s use in space. These advancements have helped make MRIs safer and require less maintenance.


11:00 am:  There’s a pharmacy nearby so you head over to pick up allergy medicine on the way home from your doctor’s appointment.

X-ray diffraction is the technique where X-ray light changes its direction by amounts that depend on the X-ray energy, much like a prism separates light into its component colors. Scientists using Chandra take advantage of diffraction to reveal important information about distant cosmic sources using the observatory’s two gratings instruments, the High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (HETGS) and the Low Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (LETGS).

X-ray diffraction is also used in biomedical and pharmaceutical fields to investigate complex molecular structures, including basic research with viruses, proteins, vaccines and drugs, as well as for cancer, AIDS and immunology studies. How does this work? In most applications, the subject molecule is crystallized and then irradiated. The resulting diffraction pattern establishes the composition of the material. X-rays are perfect for this work because of their ability to resolve small objects. Advances in detector sensitivity and focused beam optics have allowed for the development of systems where exposure times have been shortened from hours to seconds. Shorter exposures coupled with lower-intensity radiation have allowed researchers to prepare smaller crystals, avoid damage to samples and speed up their data runs.


12:00 pm: Don’t forget lunch. There’s not much time after your errands so you grab a bag of pretzels. Food safety procedures for packaged goods include the use of X-ray scans to make sure there is quality control while on the production line.

Advanced X-ray detectors with image displays inspect the quality of goods being produced or packaged on a production line. With these systems, the goods do not have to be brought to a special screening area and the production line does not have to be disrupted. The systems range from portable, hand-held models to large automated systems. They are used on such products as aircraft and rocket parts and structures, canned and packaged foods, electronics, semiconductors and microchips, thermal insulations and automobile tires.


2:00 pm: At work, you are busy multi-tasking across a number of projects, running webinar and presentation software, as well as applications for your calendar, spreadsheets, word processing, image editing and email (and perhaps some social media on the side). It’s helpful that your computer can so easily handle running many applications at once.

X-ray beam lithography can produce extremely fine lines and has applications for developing computer chips and other semiconductor related devices. Several companies are researching the use of focused X-ray synchrotron beams as the energy source for this process, since these powerful beams produce good pattern definition with relatively short exposure times. The grazing incidence optics — that is, the need to skip X-rays off a smooth mirror surface like a stone across a pond and then focus them elsewhere — developed for Chandra were the highest precision X-ray optics in the world and directly influenced this work.


7:00 pm: Dream vacation with your family. Finally!  You are on your way to the Bahamas to swim with the dolphins. In the line for airport security, carry-on bags in hand, you are hoping you’ve remembered sunscreen. Shoes off! All items placed in the tray. Thanks to X-ray technology, your bags will be inspected quickly and you WILL catch your plane…

The first X-ray baggage inspection system for airports used detectors nearly identical to those flown in the Apollo program to measure fluorescent X-rays from the Moon. Its design took advantage of the sensitivity of the detectors that enabled the size, power requirements and radiation exposure of the system to be reduced to limits practical for public use, while still providing adequate resolution to effectively screen baggage.  The company that developed the technology later developed a system that can simultaneously image, on two separate screens, materials of high atomic weight (e.g. metal hand guns) and materials of low atomic weight (e.g. plastic explosives) that pass through other systems undetected. Variations of these machines are used to screen visitors to public buildings around the world.

Check out Chandra’s 20th anniversary page to see how they are celebrating.

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Dozens of science experiments will soon make their red carpet debuts on the International Space Station. They will arrive courtesy of a Dragon cargo spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The starring players include investigations into 3D printing organ tissue, breaking up rocks and building bones.

Meet some of the experiments blasting off that could lead to the development of new technologies as well as improve life on Earth.

Grab yourself an (organ) tissue

Scientists and medical professionals have long dreamed of the day 3D printers can be used to create useable human organs. But pesky gravity seems to always get in the way.


Enter microgravity. The new BioFabrication Facility (BFF) will provide a platform to attempt the creation of this organ tissue on the space station, a potential first step towards creating entire human organs in space.

Put down your pickaxe and pick up some microbes

Extracting minerals from rocks doesn’t always require brute force. Microbes can be deployed for the same purpose in a process called bio-mining. While common on Earth, the method still needs to be explored in space to see if it can eventually help explorers on the Moon and Mars. The BioRock investigation will examine the interactions between microbes and rocks and see if microgravity could limit the use of bio-mining by restricting bacterial growth.


Keep rolling along 

Goodyear Tire will investigate if microgravity can help improve the silica design process, silica rubber formation and tire manufacturing. This investigation could lead to improvements like better tire performance and increased fuel efficiency, putting a bit of cash back in your pocket.


When space gets on our nerves

Meet microglia: a type of immune defense cell found in the central nervous system. Better understanding nerve cells and their behavior in microgravity is crucial to protecting astronaut health. 

The Space Tango-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells experiment will convert induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from patients with Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis into different types of brain cells. Researchers will examine two things:

  1. How microglial cells grow and move
  2. Changes in gene expression in microgravity

Studying this process in microgravity could reveal mechanisms not previously understood and could lead to improved prevention and treatments for the diseases.

Space moss!

Moss, the tiny plants you see covering rocks and trees in the woods, change how they behave once the gravity in their environment changes. Space Moss compares the mosses grown aboard the space station with your typical run-of-the-mill Earth-bound moss.


This investigation will let researchers see how moss behavior in space could allow it to serve as a source of food and oxygen on future Moon or Mars bases.

A smooth connection 

Docking with the space station requires physical points for connections, and International Docking Adapters (IDAs) are providing a more sophisticated way of doing so.


IDA 3 will be attached to the Harmony mode, home to two existing IDAs. This adapter can accommodate commercial crew vehicle dockings, such as the first spacecraft to launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle.

Building a better bone 

The Cell Science-02 investigation will improve our understanding of tissue regeneration and allow us to develop better countermeasures to fight loss of bone density by astronauts.


By examining the effects of microgravity on healing agents, this investigation may be able to assist people on Earth being treated for serious wounds or osteoporosis.

Want to learn about more investigations heading to the space station (or even ones currently under way)? Make sure to follow @ISS_Research on Twitter and Space Station Research and Technology News on Facebook

If you want to see the International Space Station with your own eyes, check out Spot the Station to see it pass over your town.

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When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon 50
years ago
, he famously said “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap
for mankind
.” He was referring to the historic milestone of exploring beyond
our own planet — but there’s also another way to think about that giant leap:
the massive effort to develop technologies to safely reach, walk on the Moon
and return home led to countless innovations that have improved life on Earth.

Armstrong took one small step on the lunar surface, but the Moon
landing led to a giant leap forward in innovations for humanity.

Here are five examples of technology developed for the
Apollo program that we’re still using today:

1. Food Safety Standards

As soon as we started planning to send astronauts into
space, we faced the problem of what to feed them — and how to ensure the food was
safe to eat. Can you imagine getting food poisoning on a spacecraft, hundreds
of thousands of miles from home?

We teamed up with a familiar name in food production: the
Pillsbury Company. The company soon realized that existing quality control
methods were lacking. There was no way to be certain, without extensive testing
that destroyed the sample, that the food was free of bacteria and toxins.

Pillsbury revamped its entire food-safety process, creating what
became the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system. Its aim was to prevent food safety problems from
occurring, rather than catch them after the fact. They managed this by analyzing
and controlling every link in the chain, from the raw materials to the
processing equipment to the people handling the food.

Today, this is one of the space program’s most far-reaching
spinoffs. Beyond keeping the astronaut food supply safe, the Hazard Analysis
and Critical Point system has also been adopted around the world — and likely reduced
the risk of bacteria and toxins in your local grocery store. 


2. Digital Controls for
Air and Spacecraft

The Apollo spacecraft was revolutionary for many reasons.
Did you know it was the first vehicle to be controlled by a digital computer?
Instead of pushrods and cables that pilots manually adjusted to manipulate the
spacecraft, Apollo’s computer sent signals to actuators at the flick of a

Besides being physically lighter and less cumbersome, the
switch to a digital control system enabled storing large quantities of data and
programming maneuvers with complex software.

Before Apollo, there were no digital computers to control
airplanes either. Working together with the Navy and Draper Laboratory, we
adapted the Apollo digital flight computer to work
on airplanes. Today, whatever airline you might be flying, the pilot is
controlling it digitally, based on the technology first developed for the
flight to the Moon.


3. Earthquake-ready Shock

A shock absorber descended from
Apollo-era dampers and computers saves lives by stabilizing buildings during

Apollo’s Saturn V rockets had to
stay connected to the fueling tubes on the launchpad up to the very last
second. That presented a challenge: how to safely move those tubes out of the
way once liftoff began. Given how fast they were moving, how could we ensure
they wouldn’t bounce back and smash into the vehicle?

We contracted with Taylor
Devices, Inc. to develop dampers to cushion the shock, forcing the company to
push conventional shock isolation technology to the limit.

Shortly after, we went back to
the company for a hydraulics-based high-speed computer. For that challenge, the
company came up with fluidic dampers—filled with compressible fluid—that worked
even better. We later applied the same technology on the Space Shuttle’s

The company has since adapted
these fluidic dampers for buildings and bridges to help them survive
earthquakes. Today, they are successfully protecting structures in some of the
most quake-prone areas of the world, including Tokyo, San Francisco and Taiwan.


4. Insulation for Space

We’ve all seen runners draped in silvery “space blankets” at
the end of marathons, but did you know the material, called radiant barrier
insulation, was actually created for space?

Temperatures outside of Earth’s atmosphere can fluctuate
widely, from hundreds of degrees below to hundreds above zero. To better
protect our astronauts, during the Apollo program we invented a new kind of effective, lightweight

We developed a method of coating mylar with a thin layer of vaporized metal particles. The resulting material had the look and weight
of thin cellophane packaging,
but was extremely reflective—and pound-for-pound, better than anything else available.

Today the material is still used to protect astronauts, as
well as sensitive electronics, in nearly all of our missions. But it has also
found countless uses on the ground, from space blankets for athletes to
energy-saving insulation for buildings. It also protects essential components
of MRI machines used in medicine and much, much more.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Marines

5. Healthcare Monitors

Patients in hospitals are hooked up to sensors that send
important health data to the nurse’s station and beyond — which means when an
alarm goes off, the right people come running to help.

This technology saves lives every day. But before it reached
the ICU, it was invented for something even more extraordinary: sending health
data from space down to Earth.

When the Apollo astronauts flew to the Moon, they were
hooked up to a system of sensors that sent real-time information on their blood
pressure, body temperature, heart rate and more to a team on the ground.

The system was developed for us by Spacelabs Healthcare,
which quickly adapted it for hospital monitoring. The company now has telemetric
monitoring equipment in nearly every hospital around the world, and it is
expanding further, so at-risk patients and their doctors can keep track of
their health even outside the hospital.


Only a few people have ever walked on the Moon, but the
benefits of the Apollo program for the rest of us continue to ripple widely.

In the years since, we have continued to create innovations
that have saved lives, helped the environment, and advanced all kinds of technology.

Now we’re going forward to the Moon with the Artemis program and on to Mars — and
building ever more cutting-edge technologies to get us there. As with the many
spinoffs from the Apollo era, these innovations will transform our lives for
generations to come.

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Next week, we’re launching a new “green” fuel to space for the first time! The Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM)—which consists of a non-toxic liquid, compatible propulsion system and the small satellite it’s riding on—will demonstrate how our technology works so that future missions can take advantage of this safer, more efficient fuel alternative.


Here are six key facts to know about our Green Propellant Infusion Mission:

1) The Air Force Research Lab developed the “green” fuel. 

The AFRL’s hydroxyl ammonium nitrate fuel/oxidizer blend—called AF-M315E—is actually peach in color. This liquid doesn’t require the kind of strict, handling protocols that conventional chemicals currently require. Think shirtsleeves instead of hazmat suits, which could reduce pre-launch ground processing time for a spacecraft from weeks to days!


Image Credit: Air Force Research Lab

2) It’s safer and more efficient.

The non-toxic fuel offers nearly 50% better performance when compared to today’s highly toxic chemical propellant, hydrazine. That’s equivalent to getting 50% more miles per gallon on your car. This means spacecraft can travel farther or operate for longer with less propellant in their fuel tanks. 


3) The fuel can handle extreme temperatures.

Even on missions to extremely cold environments, such as the south pole of Mars – where temperatures can dip as low as -225 degrees Fahrenheit and carbon-dioxide ice “spiders” can form (see below) – AF-M315E won’t freeze, but rather just transforms into a glass transition phase. This means even though it turns into a solid, it won’t cause spacecraft components to stretch or expand, so the spacecraft only has to warm up the fuel when it needs it.


4) Industry is already lining up to use the technology.

Our commercial partners report that there is a lot of interest and potential for this tech. After we successfully prove how it works in space, small satellites to large spacecraft could benefit by using the green propellant system. It’d only be a matter of time before companies begin building the new systems for market.


5) GPIM required a team of talented engineers.

Engineers at Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Washington developed new, optimized hardware like thrusters, tanks, filters and valves to work with the green fuel. GPIM uses a set of thrusters that fire in different scenarios to test engine performance and reliability. 


Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colorado designed and built the mini fridge-sized spacecraft bus and pieced it all together.


Before being ready for flight, GPIM components went through rigorous testing at multiple NASA centers including our Glenn Research Center, Goddard Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center. The program team at Marshall Space Flight Center manages the mission. Once in orbit, researchers will work together to study how the fuel is performing as they manipulate the spacecraft. The demonstration mission will last about 13 months.

6) GPIM will hitch a ride on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket will launch for a third time for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission targeted for June 24, 2019 at 11:30 p.m. EDT. With nearly two dozen other satellites from government, military and research institutions, GPIM will deploy within a few hours after launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch will be live-streamed here:


Follow @NASA_Technology on Twitter for news about GPIM’s launch.

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