NASA's reach extends well beyond its interplanetary research, with a number
of programs that can benefit the multitudes who remain within the earth's
gravitational pull. Some NASA technologies can be used in medicine and
manufacturing, while others are being used to reduce air transportation
The agency is being rejuvenated now, partly because of a move to refresh the
workforce that has a number of aging baby boomers, as well as the challenge
recently handed down by President Bush, who suggests sending a man to Mars. The
latter could have significant impacts here on earth by fostering new
technologies that could be licensed for other applications.
The Space Exploration Initiative detailed by President Bush earlier this year
"is about our destiny as explorers, not a destination,” says J. Victor Lebacqz,
associate administrator for aerospace technology at NASA.
In his Wednesday
morning keynote, Lebacqz described many NASA activities including initiatives
such as the Technology Transfer Partnerships Program, which helps industry
employ NASA technologies. One technology is a lower weight aluminum alloy that
could be used in car engines and other applications. Another is a CCD used in
the Hubble that is being used to improve the effectiveness of mammograms. A
technology for detecting the presence of bacterial spores may prove useful for
spotting anthrax, which could save the U.S. Post Office millions of dollars per
Lebacqz also notes that NASA is "re-energizing" it relationships with
academia, partly in order to replace workers like him, noting that his graying
hair is common in NASA. "That is not good if you want people who are going to be
on the job a long time."
NASA is also working on aerospace and has developed software being used by
the FAA to reduce gridlock in the skies. That’s again becoming an issue as the
effects of the Sept. 11 tragedy wane. NASA is also developing promising
techniques for reducing the noise pollution from a sonic boom, which could bring
the return of supersonic air travel.
Lebacqz asked audience members to think
about the “exciting manufacturing challenge” of assembling the International
Space Station. “Think about orbiting around the earth at 1,700 mph and putting
things on a machine.” He noted that the Space Shuttle is necessary for the
completion of the Space Station.