NASA research finds way into IT, consumer products

Fifty years of technology helped to create Silicon Valley and improve health care.

Rich Mastronardi, vice president of business development at AS&E, explained that the company was founded in 1958 to develop scientific instruments and applications for NASA. The company's first team of scientists were pioneers in the field of X-ray astronomy, which is the study of celestial bodies through the X-rays they emit.

NASA has since licensed the technology to a variety of vendors that have used it to create digital X-ray systems for hospitals, advanced weather-prediction technology, and NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory Center for X-ray astronomy.

AS&E has taken advantage of this research to build security X-ray systems that are used at ports, borders and military facilities to detect threats such as explosives.

"I think that a lot of the early work that was funded by the government really did break barriers and opened up opportunities for all kinds of products," said Mastronardi.

"If it was left to commercial ventures, it would be a much more shortsighted approach to technology. If you're a company, you need to have a return on investment, and it reduces your ability to invest in far-reaching technologies that may not have an impact for years, he added.

Mastronardi noted that the company's focused research has led to a diverse range of applications decades later. Without NASA research, AS&E "probably wouldn't exist or [it would] certainly be a different company," he added. "It gave us the platform to develop all kinds of applications for X-rays."

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