NASA’s History of Spinoff Tech

3-2-1 Tech Off: Transferring Technology Advances for 40 Years!

What do you think of when you think of NASA?  Maybe it’s men walking on the moon, the space shuttle helping to build the International Space Station, rovers on Mars, or winglets on airplanes.  While those are all true, there are numerous items that incorporate NASA technology, research or expertise called “spinoffs.”

Spinoffs are other products that incorporate NASA technology, research, or expertise. Credit: NASA

These include products that:

  • were designed for NASA use, to NASA specifications, and then commercialized
  • are developed as a result of a NASA-funded agreement or know-how gained during collaboration with NASA
  • incorporated NASA technology in their manufacturing process
  • received significant contributions in design or testing from NASA laboratory personnel or facilities
  • are entrepreneurial endeavors by ex-NASA employees whose technical expertise was developed while employed by the agency
  • are developed using data or software made available by NASA

The Spinoff Bicentennial Report


Click here to read the 1976 Spinoff (PDF). Credit: NASA

In 1973 and 1974, NASA published black and white reports concerning the Technology Utilization Program to prepare for congressional budget hearings.  They generated so much public interest that NASA decided to make them for the general public.

In 1976, the first four-color Spinoff publication was made by NASA to celebrate our nation’s bicentennial anniversary and pointed out the significant contributions of improved communications, weather forecasting and to our understanding of the universe.

In addition, technology developed by NASA has already “been applied to thousands of products and processes throughout the nation” within areas such medical instrumentation, pollution control and safety.  Since that first publication 40 years ago, NASA has profiled over 2,000 spinoffs.

NASA has a long history of transferring technologies from their original mission applications to secondary uses. For example, Mars continues to be a rich destination for scientific discovery and exploration, and NASA’s missions there have inspired a variety of practical, terrestrial benefits.

Spinoff 2015 features stories about some of these technologies. One such story includes shock absorbers used during space shuttle launches being repurposed to brace buildings during earthquakes, thus preventing damage and saving lives.

Spinoff 2016 features stories about pressure garments that are used to save new mother’s lives, lightweight nanotubes transforming the medical industry, and how a Mars methane detector can be used to identify harmful gas leaks here on earth.

Credit: NASA

Additional spinoff resources can be found here. These include PowerPoint presentations, papers, flyers, and brochures.  The PowerPoint presentations are great for use within the classroom. The flyers and brochures are grouped by category and missions.  There is also an app for the iPad! Click here to view the app in the iTunes store. It features shortened versions of all the articles from the book, image galleries, videos, and more.  For even more, check out the entire index of spinoffs.

By Dr. Barbie Buckner, Ph.D.
NASA Educator Professional Development Specialist
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center