Space travel can be a controversial topic among environmentalists but NASA’s travails into the atmosphere, despite using countless amounts of fossil fuels, have provided the world with some innovative technologies that have evolved the way we care for the environment.
As part of Techly’s series on NASA inventions that have entered the mainstream to help humans live in a modern world, this week we’ll take a closer look at developments that are looking out for human health and the health of our planet.
Last week we concentrated on Tom Cruse’s invisible braces, Roy Orbison’s sunglasses, and baby food. Now we’ll turn our eye on inventions that will have a lasting effect on humanity.
NASA’s original aim was to create a remotely piloted aircraft, but their experiments instead led to technology that can now be found on the roofs of many households.
The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Alliance set out to get unmanned vehicles flying at high altitudes. They incorporated solar power in order to reduce the weight of the aircraft, and improve the effectiveness of the energy-saving tech.
In the wide expanse of space, solar power is essential for NASA’s space operations, but now crystal silicon solar power is everywhere we look, helping to cut energy expenses and reduce pollution.
It’s also allowed low-cost solar cells to emerge on the market, which are able to provide 50 per cent more power than conventional cells, and assisted in keeping electricity prices competitive. It was even widely used at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Without NASA’s intervention, it’s likely our solar power technology would still be a fledgling work in progress.
Who doesn’t like tasty water? But more importantly, who doesn’t like water that won’t infect and kills you.
Dirty water is almost unbelievable in our western bubble, but about 780 million people don’t have access to clean water.
While it’s still a challenge to provide clean water to those millions, NASA’s care for their astronauts has helped make the overcoming the challenge at least possible.
Water purification used to mean boiling the liquid or running it through bulky filters, but NASA’s research provides a far simpler approach.
They invented a filter with activated charcoal containing ions, which neutralises pathogens in water, killing bacteria and preventing further bacteria growth. Intended to help astronauts living on the International Space Station, it can even turn wastewater – such as sweat and urine – into drinkable water.
NASA’s work in microencapsulation technology has, among other things, enabled advancements in treating cancer.
Microencapsulation is a process which forms tiny liquid-filled, biodegradable micro-balloons. In the case of cancer treatment, they contain drug solutions that can be used to treat tumours.
But the technology has also enabled the ability to safely and permanently clean water that has been contaminated with oil, with the Petroleum Remediation Product (PRP) revolutionising oil spill clean-ups.
The work was mainly carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with the technology developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center and scientists worked with researchers from both sites to develop PRP.
By releasing thousands of mircocapsules – tiny balls of beeswax with hollow centres – into the contaminated water, the oil is absorbed into the balls as they float in the water.
In this video, the bloke who demonstrates its use even drinks the once filthy water – now that’s cool.