Biotechnology breakthroughs are occurring as engineers find inspiration from the lotus plant to develop materials that can overcome the challenging space environment. Studies of lotus plants and their ability to shed water and dirt are inspiring a NASA team to develop a similar capability for use on spacesuits, scientific instruments, robotic rovers, and other devices used for exploring the solar system.
The space environment can also be useful for developing medical vaccines. Aboard the Space Shuttle, NASA astronauts conducted research on the effects of spaceflight on salmonella cells. The weightless environment of spaceflight causes the salmonella cells to function as though they are crossing from the intestine into the bloodstream to start an infection.
Research conducted to support astronauts living and working in space may lead to medical treatments to stop bone loss in cancer treatment patients. Microgravity is well known to cause bone loss in astronauts, but recent research shows that elevated radiation levels typical in the space environment also contribute to this effect.
College students participating in a NASA internship program are learning to use data from spacecraft to identify habitats of ticks carrying Lyme disease within Alabama and to raise public awareness of the disease. Initially the students determined that Lyme disease bacteria were present in ticks in central Alabama.
Data from spacecraft enables research teams from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Global Emerging Infections System and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to monitor and predict disease outbreaks for Rift Valley fever epidemics in East Africa.
Since the 2006 return of NASA’s Stardust spacecraft, scientists have been analyzing captured samples of the comet Wild 2. NASA researchers found that the samples contained a fundamental building block of life—the amino acid glycine—marking the first time an amino acid was found in a comet.
Tactical communications supported by satellites are becoming increasingly important to mobile military units during operations. In June 2009, the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center awarded Iridium a contract to develop a next-generation communications system for a joint U.S. military network technologies program.
Communications technologies also play a key role in the security sector because they can deliver communication services unaffected by disruption or lack of terrestrial communications infrastructure.
Since 1999, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has made extensive use of satellite imagery in its Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme (ICPM), helping national governments and the international community monitor and track the production of illicit crops.