Feb. 10, 2012 at 1:41 PM ET
Amid the storm brewing over cuts to NASA's budget for the coming year, the space agency has published its annual reminder that the things it builds to explore the universe also lead to amazing "spinoffs" — innovative technologies and products used here on Earth.
The reminder is a booklet, itself called Spinoff, that reveals NASA's ties to everything from more efficient solar cells to software that makes data crunching a much speedier process to an online video game that's inspiring future engineers.
Among the technologies with NASA smarts highlighted in this year's report include:
A central piece in the brewing budget battle for NASA concerns cuts that would end the space agency's involvement in two upcoming missions to Mars with the European Space Agency.
"To me, it's totally irrational and unjustified," Edward Weiler, who until September was NASA's associate administrator for science, told the Associated Press. "We are the only country on this planet that has the demonstrated ability to land on another planet, namely Mars. It is a national prestige issue."
As pointed out in the Spinoff publication, the experience of landing on Mars has led, for example, to a so-called 3-D flash LIDAR camera technology sold by Advanced Scientific Concepts that is making for improved crash avoidance, navigation and object tracking for all kinds of vehicles, including cars and trucks.
"When mounted on an automobile, the technology can show a driver how close or far away things are to assist in avoiding collisions," NASA explains in Spinoff. "A monitor on the car would distinguish how far away other cars, bicyclists or pedestrians are, as well as how fast they are moving."
Within six to eight years, such technology could be standard on cars and trucks.
You can learn about these technologies and many more by reading Spinoff 2011.
Fun fact: Contary to popular belief, NASA does not claim to be the brains behind Tang. General Foods began to test market the the powdery drink mix in 1957, a year before the space agency was born. Tang did fly on all Gemini and Apollo missions, however, which boosted sales.
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