A common misunderstanding in regards to NASA is that it essentially shoots money out into space, never to return. But NASA's missions fund tens of thousands of very smart people to tackle very difficult problems, which inevitably leads to clever inventions that have uses far beyond their original intention.
NASA does the great service of compiling its spinoffs every year, and today it released the report from 2012. Here's a snippet of some of the goods:
- A satellite tracking system pioneered by NASA that has helped rescue more than 30,000 people in distress all over the world. - An X-ray fluorescence scanner that detects the elemental composition of an object and is frequently used by museums to authenticate works of art. - An open source platform co-developed by NASA that has spurred enormous growth in the cloud computing industry. - A plug-and-play research platform that facilitates experiments carried out in microgravity on the International Space Station for customers ranging from high schools and universities to pharmaceutical organizations around the globe.
This is a good time to point out that NASA does a lot of things! Space and advanced aeronautics prompt us to solve insanely difficult problems. By setting the goalposts so far down field, NASA drives people to think creatively for solutions beyond those that immediately jump into being for everyday problems. It leaves a trail of innovation in its wake, providing direct and indirect impacts in our way of life.
Before you think that I'm just sitting here cheerleading for NASA, I have plenty to critique about how this information is presented. For some reason, NASA only highlights a few of these examples from 2012 in HTML format. The rest are buried in a 204-page, 31 MB PDF file that approximately me and five other people will bother to read. The Spinoff Database so far does not contain entries for 2012, and many links to entries from 2011 are broken.
NASA's Chief Technologist's office has a lot of money to work with (one of the few well-funded divisions within NASA these days), so hopefully they'll get better about promoting the amazing out of work done by NASA employees and contractors.