tions, the partnership put it into the hands of the general public…
and into the insoles of shoes that have trekked all over the world.
Aerogel is only one example of how the benefits of advanced
materials developed in NASA labs make life better beyond the
launch pad. And it’s a great example of how NASA partnerships
bring new materials to the market.
“It’s one of NASA’s missions to transfer technology for the
public benefit,” Lockney explains. “Some
general examples include weather tech-
nologies; spacecraft; air transportation;
computers; and solar, wind, and other
renewable energies. In fact, the cameras
in your cell phones are direct descen-
dents of NASA technology.”
Since NASA’s inception in 1958,
technologies crafted in NASA labs have
seeped into the private sector, either
through formal contractual agree-
ments between NASA and private
industry, or through the simple diffu-
sion of knowledge as personnel move
from one job to another, taking their
Knowledge and experience along for
the ride. But no matter how the tech-
nology is transferred, it has a very
real impact on daily life.
Here’s a look at some other NASA
spin-offs that have put chemistry to
work for the nation.
Insulation on external shuttle
propellant tanks is a big concern
at NASA. The tanks store super-
cooled liquid propellant, which
needs to be protected from the
high temperatures of ignition
and launch. NASA researchers
developed a polyimide foam
insulator called TEEK to
be applied to the
cryogenic propellant tanks. But the technology had much greater
potential, which was realized when a company called PolyuMAC
came on the scene.
Together, NASA and PolyuMAC researchers worked on altering
the chemical properties of the foam, making it flexible, lighter in
weight, and cheaper to produce.
While the researchers addressed the needs of the shuttle structures, they also kept an eye on commercial applications. Sold under
the name Polyshield, the TEEK-derived technology is now about
one-fifth of its original cost to manufacture and also has improved
flexibility and durability. Like TEEK, Polyshield is a flame retardant
and a thermal and acoustic insulator. It can be applied to things
like gaskets, seals, and vibration damping pads, and can also be
used for sound and cryogenic insulation and fire protection.
Temperature mitigation is a near-constant challenge for NASA
researchers. Protecting equipment from the effects of atmospheric
re-entry alone means enabling it to withstand temperatures over
2,000°F. And rocket engines aren’t exactly chilly, either, with temperatures reaching upwards of 5,000°F. At the Langley Research
Center, NASA scientists have harnessed the power of polyimides to
take on this challenge.
Researchers developed a high-temperature composite material,
called RP-46. It’s a polyimide resin that was created as an environmentally friendly product that can be processed for use as an
adhesive, composite, resin molding, coating, foam, or film. The uses
for the shuttle program are numerous, but it wasn’t until the technology was licensed to a private organization that its potential was
explored to a much greater degree.
The NASA-developed technology found its way to Unitech, a
company that was looking for ways to create an application-spe-cific insulation for an all-electric ship being developed by the U.S.
Navy. Unitech needed a fire-resistant material that could take a jolt
of anywhere from 8,000 to 250,000 volts of electricity. Independent
testing demonstrated that RP-46 could endure temperatures up
to 2,300°F— a finding that made the material appropriate for the
RP-46 has a veritable laundry list of actual and potential uses: as
a coating for rolls of Kevlar fabric; thermal skins on aircraft, aero-
space engines, exhaust duct systems, and rocket nose cones; and
on vehicles racing around the tracks at NASCAR and Formula One
Glenn Research Center, in Cleveland, OH, is
home to NASA’s Structures and Materi-
als Division. There, polymer
research abounds with
the intent to build and