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 gridlocks.
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 year.
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.