NASA has some really bizarre side-interests you’d never guess, including the sexual habits of dolphins, isolation experiments, zit zapping, and more. Once you read a little bit of background on the way that NASA research becomes entangled with each of these findings or inventions, it becomes a little more clear how the two tango. Science can start with a weed and end up with a way to clean water, or start with a NASA spaceship tank and end up with a golf ball that can’t be beat.
The Basics of NASA
NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration and was started in 1958 by the United States government. NASA is the expert in science and technology that involves airplanes or space. NASA Headquarters is in Washington, D.C., although there are ten NASA centers located throughout the United States, including seven test and research facilities. NASA has more than 18,000 employees, and although being an astronaut is probably the best-known job at NASA, astronauts actually only make up a small portion of the NASA workforce. NASA employs engineers and scientists, secretaries, writers, lawyers, and teachers.
See what unusual projects they’ve funded since 1958.
The Asteroid Spaceship
NASA is funding a newer project, dubbed Project RAMA. This NASA project is trying to figure out how to successfully transform asteroids into spacecraft that are under human control without humans being actually on the ship, by installing various computers, avionics, and propulsion systems.
These robo-asteroids are hoped to be used in the future for a various continuum of projects, including piloting them to pick up humans on rescue missions or steering space rocks that threaten the health and life (us!) on our planet out of harm’s way. This would be like the best remote control toy ever for scientists.
NASA Wants To Zap Your Zits
The founder of Tyrell Inc., Robert Conrad, had suffered from adult acne. He was using his scientific knowledge to work out a method to use heat to shock and kill what are acne-causing bacteria without damaging the surrounding skin. The device Tyrell came up with was too cumbersome and expensive to produce… until NASA’s Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) connected him to a Boeing Company design engineer who worked at Kennedy Space Center. The result was a smaller device, with a smaller heating element, and the Zeno cost only 10 cents instead of $80.00 to produce. This NASA-funded zit zapper sells well!
Vegetables in Space
Remember the movie The Martian with Matt Damon where he grows veggies on Mars? NASA wants to find out all about this, and ingredients for the first astroponic veggies were delivered to the ISS in April of 2014. LED lights incubate the baby lettuce– although so far, red romaine lettuce is the only thing being grown. The lettuce unit holds six packets containing seeds, fertilizer, and clay. Once the plants are grown, they will be flash-frozen and delivered to Earth on a ‘Dragon capsule.’ After being thoroughly tested, the lettuce will be deemed as edible, or not. If they are edible, they could be cultivated in microgravity. The question is, how much is this lettuce going to cost??
NASA Does Diapers
Remember when it was major news that NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak lost her mind and drove from Houston to Orlando wearing her space-age diapers? She was on her way to confront her romantic rival for another astronaut’s affections and didn’t want to bother stopping and using the toilet apparently. Her solution was to wear diapers for the car ride. The technology used in regular diapers is the same technology used in NASA’s Maximum Absorbency Garments (MAGs: it is a super-absorbent polymer called sodium polyacrylate. This polymer is used in gardening as well, because it can absorb lots of water and keep it stored in the soil during droughts.
The Ice Cannon
The saltwater ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europais is deeply protected by a 30-kilometer-thick (20 mi) shell of ice. Jupiter is a half a billion miles from home so how are scientists to figure this out? During his presidency, Obama allocated $15 million of NASA’s annual allowance for Europa exploration. NASA has already developed an unbelievable new drilling technology, to punch through Jupiter’s moon’s ice crust: a nuclear-powered ICE CANNON. Woah. The ice cannon is named VALKYRIE and is being tested in Alaska on Matanuska Glacier. VALKYRIE uses a nuclear core to create insanely hot, propelled jets of water that cut through the ice.
The Lady Who Lived With A Dolphin
Margaret Howe Lovatt developed a strange relationship with a dolphin (named Peter?!) in the 1960s, as part of a NASA-funded research project. Lovatt moved in with the dolphin for three months to conduct her research experiment of trying to teach Peter how to communicate with humans. (They were hoping they could teach him to talk through his blowhole.) When the dolphin would get aroused, which apparently was frequently, he would have to be moved to a tank with female dolphins in order to relieve himself and then return to Lovatt, able to focus. Eventually, Lovatt took care of that herself. “It would just become part of what was going on, like an itch, just get rid of that scratch and we would be done and move on,” she said.
NASA has paid close attention to waste treatment and recycling of water for years. This lead to the creation of NASA’s Vascular Aquatic Plant Research Program. NASA researcher Bill Wolverton of the VAPRP discovered that the water hyacinth, a common weed throughout the south, soaks up sewage (including–argh– large pieces.) The water hyacinth works overtime, also soaking up heavy metals and other organic compounds from water.
The hyacinth’s abilities are due to tiny bacteria that live on the plant’s root hairs. These hairs work to break down the sewage into nutrients that the plant absorbs and uses. Towns throughout the south now use water hyacinth lagoons to purify their wastewater.
Project Morpheus is an unmanned prototype lander which is created to land in darkness, in harsh terrain. This is thanks to its Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (thought to be named after Dr. Alhat.) Morpheus is a NASA-funded project that is created out of giant steel balls and an underside from which flames are projected. Although its 2012 prototypes burst into flames when trying to land, now the lander can safety hit the ground, no flames included. Project Morpheus is going to set the trail for future lunar, planetary, and asteroid missions, which have uncharted and unparalleled reams of knowledge for the human race.
A Design To Prevent Hydroplaning
In what might be the most valuable of NASA’s innovations for the safety of human life on Earth, NASA engineers discovered that simply by cutting thin grooves across concrete runways, the risk of hydroplaning (or spinning out of control) was greatly reduced. This is because the grooves create channels that quickly drain off excess water as it comes down. Because of this simple but powerful design, hundreds of airports have had their runways “grooved.” Astoundingly, the use of grooves on highways has reduced highway traffic accidents by a whopping eight-five percent, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
Comfort Food on Mars
Six researchers for NASA spent four months living in a mini-dome on a barren Hawaii lava field at 8,000 feet, trying to suss out what foods astronauts could eat on Mars and during deep-space missions. Every time they went onto the Mauna Loa, an active volcano that erupted last in 1984, they had to wear space suits.
Six researchers were chosen by the University of Hawaii and Cornell University to prepare meals from a list of dehydrated, preserved foods that are not perishable. The researchers examined prepared meals that are comparable to what astronauts eat now, and then made their own meals to prevent malnourishment and food boredom.
Hair Care In Space
When NASA scientist Dr. Dennis Morrison spent decades researching nano-ceramic materials (which are tiny particles of ceramics, 10,000 times smaller than a human hair) he surely didn’t expect them to be used to beautify hair. Morrison developed microcapsules full of drugs that could be injected into cancerous tumors, but the stealthy researcher also helped develop a blend of nanoceramic and metals, that could be used in hair-care implements like hair irons. This blend makes it so that when the iron is heated, it releases negative ions that make the hair shinier and more manageable.
Now, Morrison is also researching using near-infrared light from LEDs to encourage hair growth and speed up hair drying time.
The Robot Handyman
NASA also built a robot spaceman: Dextre the mechanical handyman. The dexterous manipulator (as it’s officially termed: R2DS, anyone?) is now a permanent fixture of the ISS to perform maintenance and keep human astronauts safe.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) were the originators of Dextre. Dextre stands 12 feet tall, has prehensile arms that are nearly as long, and weighs 3,700 lbs. Dextre weighs an amazing 450 tons. This spaceman handyman can be controlled remotely by the astronauts aboard the space-station, but currently, Dextre’s commands are given from earth, with joint control from NASA and the CSA. Now astronauts won’t have to risk life and limb to fix a small problem with their crafts.
Why do you think they called it Astroglide? This clear, water-based lubricant was created and developed by an engineer named Dan Wray, during his work on the space shuttle’s cooling systems at Edwards Air Force Base in 1977. NASA doesn’t use this example on their own list of consumer products based on the agency’s tech, and very strangely, Astroglide’s own website has dropped all mention of NASA recently. Wonder if NASA is a little bit ‘that was so yesterday’ about this infamous product forever attached to their name? The two are stuck together (pardon the pun) forever though, listed or not.
This app is available for downloading: it’s called Ball Invasion, and it lets you shoot at balls that are hidden in the real world, in a really amazing form of augmented reality. This iPad game was created and developed by a Swedish startup named 13th Lab. They used a NASA technology called Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). This NASA technology creates a 3-D map of the general localized environment and calculates your exact position in it.
The technology was originally created and developed to help robot life navigate, but 13th Lab put their scientific brains to work and made it work overtime with just an iPad’s camera and other sensors.
A Rose on Mars
A perfume company called International Flavors & Fragrances wanted to find out if roses would smell the same in low gravity. The company cultivated a miniature rose called Overnight Scentsation that was meant to grow inside a plant growth chamber called ASTROCULTURE in the midsection of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Thanks to NASA, the rose grew during the 10-day flight on board the shuttle, so researchers could discover that roses do actually smell different in low gravity.
This is because their production of volatile oils (essential oils) is different. Astronauts sampled the molecules of the flower during the Astroculture flight by gathering four samplings of the flower smell in space. IFF was then able to synthesize a scent based on it and the resulting perfume was Zen by Shiseido.
Space Technology For Baby Formula
NASA partnered with Martin Marietta Corp. to take a scientific look at the possibility of microalgae as a food source, as well as a source of oxygen on long space flights. During their research, the scientists realized the microalgae had potential as a food source on Earth. This was down to one strain called Crypthecodinium cohnii, which produces docosahexaenoc acid (DHA) naturally and in high quantities. Another strain of fungus turned out to produce arachidonic acid, which is a fatty acid that’s crucial for infant health, in large amounts. The researchers created a whole new corporation to develop this potential, and now these fatty acids appear in 90 percent of all baby formula sold in the United States.
The Space Pen
A long-held myth is that NASA spent millions (or billions!) of dollars to develop a space pen. The truth is that NASA did start to develop a space pen, but as the costs spiraled and the agency came up against public opposition, the research stopped and NASA astronauts reverted back to using pencils. However, it was at the same time that Mr. Fisher of Fisher Pens began developing a pen that would work in weightless conditions. He used his own money, not NASA’s. Mr. Fisher’s pen had a pressurized ink cartridge which would work in weightless environments, extreme temperatures, and underwater. NASA then equipped Apollo astronauts with Fisher’s space pen.
Michael Siffre was a French geologist who was backed by NASA to descend into a cave near Del Rio, Texas. The experiment in the warm caves of Texas were spent with electrodes attached to his head, which were there to monitor his heart, brain, and muscle activity. Everything went fairly routinely until day 79 when Siffre’s sanity began to give way. He became extremely depressed. His record player broke so he was deprived of sound and music, and mildew began eroding his magazines, books, and scientific equipment. He considered killing himself.
He found comfort in the friendship of a mouse, but when Siffre tried to trap the mouse with a casserole dish to make it his pet, he killed it on accident. He wrote in his journal, “Desolation overwhelms me.” Then he was struck by lightening through the electrodes in his head. The findings? For one month, Siffre’s regular sleep-wake cycles were slightly longer than 24 hours. After one month, his cycles began varying from 18 to 52 hours.
Golf Straight (On Earth)
The external tanks on NASA Space Shuttles contain liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, so NASA developed technology that prevents the liquid from sloshing about, thereby disrupting the clean, predictable movements of the shuttle. In the same way, the center of a golf ball contains liquid that sloshes. So, when Wilson Sporting Goods Co. was looking to develop a brand-new golf ball, they sought out an engineer who used to work on the external tank airloads and “slosh control” for the NASA shuttles. When NASA research and golf balls came together, it resulting in an unparalleled game of golf.