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What has NASA done for you lately? Lots

NASA

NASA technology developed to land the Phoenix Lander on Mars, shown here in an artist's rendering, has led to crash avoidance technology that may find its way into our cars within a decade.

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 firefighting system that was influenced by a NASA-derived rocket design that extinguishes fires more quickly than traditional systems, saving lives and property.
  • Software employing NASA-invented tools to help commercial airlines fly shorter routes and help save millions of gallons of fuel each year, reducing costs to airlines while benefiting the environment.
  • A fitness monitoring technology developed with NASA expertise that, when fitted in a strap or shirt, can be used to measure and record vital signs. The technology is now in use to monitor the health of professional athletes and members of the armed services.

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. 

More on NASA spinoffs:


John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.

Where nations used to compete to get into space, now the competition focuses on private businesses, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into next-generation spaceships. Msnbc.com science editor Alan Boyle reports from inside the rocket factories on the future of spaceflight.