NASA Spinoff Tech You Have Used

Did you know that one degree celsius difference in temperature between your right and left leg means you may have sensory nerve damage in your lower back? Did you know a hot spot on your skin, or inside your body, could mean an infection or an inflammatory disease? Detected cold spots often mean poor blood supply. How do we determine these temperatures? Infrared technologies owe much to NASA sponsored research. Yes, we’re talking about more NASA spinoff technology. This is spinoff tech you have used in your home or in a medical facility.

image of the moon NASA spinoff tech you have used could have come from the Apollo Lunar Landing Program

What is Infrared

Infrared Radiation (IR) is invisible to most humans. Also infrared light, it is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than those of visible light.

German-born British astronomer, Sir William Herschel discovered infrared radiation on February 11, 1800 when he observed its effect on a thermometer.

The first experiments with infrared occurred during WWII. German engineers attempted to create heat-seeking missiles and proximity fuses. The war ended before they could.

Many countries experimented with thermal detectors of IR. Thermocouples and bolometers are two such devices still used today.

NASA developed IR scanners for detecting objects in space. That led to an entire array of other uses for infrared detection.

Ear or Aural Thermometers

image of infrared or ear thermometer, a NASA spinoff tech

With concerns about the pandemic and fevers, have you used one of these or had one used on you recently?

Diatek Corporation of San Diego, California adapted infrared sensor technology developed for space missions into an ear thermometer. Within two seconds it measures heat radiated from an eardrum. It save nurses time and stress on their wrists (from shaking down thermometers—ask me how I know!)


Thermography is a test that uses an infrared camera to detect heat patterns and blood flow in body tissues.

There are thermography cameras, videos, and scanners.

With those of these devices your medical team can detect restricted blood flow because of narrowing of the blood vessels or a blood clot. The device also detects inflammatory diseases and some cancers.

Body Imaging

An image of an MRI machine, another NASA spinoff tech

In the mid-1960s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) pioneered digital signal processing (DSP) for the Apollo Lunar Landing program. DSP is used in advanced body imaging techniques including computer-aided tomography, also known as CT and CATScan, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 NASA Spinoffs You Have Used

Have you used an ear thermometer? Had a thermal video or thermography done? Perhaps you’ve had an MRI or CATScan. There is undoubtedly NASA Spinoff tech you have used in your home or elsewhere. Did you know these things were spinoffs? 

Is There an Awesome NASA Spinoff in Your Home?

Have you heard of NASA Spinoffs? When Congress established NASA in 1958, it required the space agency to share information about its discoveries. They also gave NASA the go-ahead to patent inventions and help businesses develop commercial uses for them. The results are amazing. Thousands of devices started because of research for space vehicles or exploration. Is there an awesome NASA Spinoff in your home? Maybe.

Image of the Hubble Telescope in space one of the many satellites NASA tracks and led to the possibility of awesome NASA spinoffs being in your home.


Since 1976, NASA has published Spinoff a publication that features an average of 50 of these technologies. Technologies that range from ear thermometers to Ventricular assist devices to water purification systems and much more.

Research for cutting-edge technologies often takes years and many, many dollars. Small businesses often could invest the time but rarely had the funds.

In the 1980s, the Small Business Administration began a funding project to promote development of innovative technologies. Their idea was that both government agencies and private industry would benefit from the research and development.

Small businesses apply for funds, then develop technology that’s of interest to NASA. The small company can then use what they learned to develop products for their company. It’s a win-win. And boy have we won some cool tech. One such awesome piece of technology (that you won’t find in your home) is FINDER.

Detecting Heartbeats Remotely

NASA often must deal with weak signals. Slight movements of a satellite might result from gravity fluctuations. NASA needs to know about those movements to keep the satellite in the proper position and to understand the effects of gravity.

In the early 2000s,  the Department of Homeland Security’s First Responders Group’s (FRG) R-Tech division wanted to know if the system NASA used could remotely detect human vital signs. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response). FINDER picks out faint but correlating movements of human breathing and heartbeats.

R4 Inc., in Edgewood Maryland licensed FINDER. And spent the next couple of years developing it for first responders to use in real-world situations.

Real-World Test

In April 2015, Nepal suffered severe damage from a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. One of R4’s founders took two FINDER prototypes to Nepal. The devices found four victims trapped under as much as ten feet of rubble. All four men survived.

The quake destroyed thousands of buildings, caused landslides, and avalanches. Approximately 9,000 people died, 22,000 were injured, and 3.5 million left homeless.

Portable & Significant

The technology, more formally known as laser Doppler vibrometer, is a portable, suitcase-sized device now manufactured by SpecOps Group and R4.

Trajectory Magazine

The significance of this device is that it only detects people who are alive. Search and rescue dogs locate the living and dead. This device saves time, allows rescuers to focus on the living, and allows them evaluate the heart rate and prioritize which person needs rescued first.

As of 2017, FINDER had been available commercially for about three years. In that time, they had sold 166 units. They sold many to international urban search and rescue teams. 

NASA More Than A Space Agency

NASA’s mandate to help business create and use technology is one more reason to support NASA. Although slow-to-start, NASA has become an advocate for children and women and minorities to get education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

More Awesome Spinoffs To Come

Had you heard about NASA Spinoffs before? FINDER is only one of the amazing things developed from technologies used in or needed for space exploration. Is there an awesome NASA Spinoff in your home? Stay tuned for future posts!.