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NASA is surely on the cutting edge of technology, as its research and development take them literally out of this world. Fortunately, its innovation is not exciting only in space; as NASA seeks to make space travel easier, safer, and more sustainable, the technology it develops is also useful and in use right here on the ground. Technologies originally developed in pursuit of exiting the atmosphere now help us address some of the biggest challenges we face on Earth. Here are eight examples of NASA technologies bettering our planet today.
The manufacture of prosthetics was previously done by casting them in plaster and corn starch molds, which are difficult to ship and easily broken. The Harshberger Prosthetic & Orthotic Center looked to NASA for an answer and found that the foam insulation developed to cover the external tank of a space shuttle — lighter, stronger, and more easily machined than plaster, not to mention less expensive. This ultimately reduced the cost of artificial limbs for patients and enabled mass production of foam “blanks” that can be shipped to prosthetic makers.
In the past, if a mammogram x-ray produced a trouble spot, a doctor would perform a biopsy that required them to cut into the breast for a tissue sample. Technology developed for the Hubble Space Telescope, however, allows biopsies to be performed with just a needle. An advanced, super sensitive version of charged coupled devices — silicon chips that convert light into electronic or digital images — were initially installed in the Hubble Telescope in 1997 and shortly adopted for a new breast biopsy system. The device allows more accurate imaging of breast tissue than a traditional x-ray.
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