NASA engineers in Ohio were moving forward with an oil-free turbine engine, an advanced research program that replaces ball bearings and oil with foil bearings, air, and coatings. But they've been hit by a double whammy that raises questions about the technology's future. First, much of NASA's funding is being diverted to the Columbia investigation. Second, researchers were developing the technology for use as a jet engine, and arrangements with aircraft manufacturers have disappeared given that industry's gruesome finances. Researchers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland now face the daunting task of seeking money from a Congress distracted by Iraq or from another industry that needs a large turbine. The oil-free bearing technology has many potential benefits. Air won't burn like oil, so the turbine can run at up to 650C without cooling. There's no chance that air can leak away or get dirty like oil. Additionally, it doesn't require plumbing or pumps. A 50-passenger jet could save 8% in acquisition and fuel costs.
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