NASA Engineers Honored for Inventions That Can Be Used in Private Sector

A group of 25 NASA scientists and engineers, including two astronauts, have been recognized for developing nine new technologies that can benefit the private sector. Houston Public Radio's Ed Mayberry reports.

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Inventions created by NASA engineers and contractors for use in space can often be reworked into something that's useful to the rest of the world. The space agency obtains patents for the inventions and licenses intellectual property for use in the private sector. The agency makes money and the inventor makes money, according to JSC patent counsel Ed Fine.

"One of our key elements in the space exploration vision is to develop the innovative technologies, knowledge and infrastructures both to explore and support decisions about the destinations for human exploration, and to explore breakthrough technologies."

Among inventors being honored are Dick Arndt, who has many patents from his work for the space agency.

"About 25." "Ed: "Are they related in any way, the types of things?" "Yes, well most, all of them have to do with mainly microwave systems, medical, and this particular one is to detect ice on, build-up of ice on wings." Ed: "After these inventions are licensed, do you ever hear back or see how these things are put to practical use?" "Yes, it's really good when somebody uses the things that we build there, and so, yeah, we hear back once in a while." Ed: "I'm thinking the airplane, the de-icing thing, especially." "Well, yeah, that would be actually, Continental Airlines was interested in the thing."

Arndt also lends his engineering skills to small business owners in need of technical assistance through the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program. Bill Schneider helped design an energy-absorbing device for use on roadways.

"The idea came from a flight surgeon here, and he was also working at the Indianapolis 500 and people were getting killed--they were hitting concrete and giving them too much deceleration and it wound up killing them. So we had to design a thing that essentially had straps that were energy-absorbing straps, so when a car comes hitting it'll literally catch the car within eight feet."

NASA's Michael Coates says government and industry goes out of its way to stimulate and reward creativity and innovation.

"Inventors actually get money for these inventions! The fact is, here at the Johnson Space Center, we get to keep some omney, too, for the intellectual property rights. We get over $300,000 a year after the inventors get their just rewards. And industry is exactly the same way--they get licensing fees, royalties and so forth."

Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...