2014 Writing Contest: 100 Years of Change: Once upon a time...Before TV!

First Place Essay

NASA's Efforts to Make an Impact on the Economy

Amy Mirecki, Columbia High School, Columbia Station, OH, Teacher, Mr. John W. Sheridan

NASA has been contributing to the nation’s economy since 1958, when it was founded. Not only has NASA contributed to monumental leaps in the history of the United States, but it has also been conducive to much advancement throughout the world. NASA not only creates jobs from new projects and programs, but the spinoffs created from NASA’s innovations provide new jobs as well. NASA has been devoted to developing new technologies and raising the standard of living in the United States for over 55 years. NASA has specifically dedicated programs to helping the local economy and is committed to investing in technologies and innovations in the US economy. What many do not realize is that NASA’s expenditures and economic growth are directly related.

NASA’s impact on the economy begins with its commitment to seeking partnerships with US companies that can license NASA’s innovations and create what are called “spin-offs.” These spin-offs are products that are created because of NASA’s technology. The products use a NASA invention or innovation in an everyday life scenario. These products range in areas such as transportation, manufacturing, health and medicine, renewable energy, and consumer goods. NASA works toward being involved in and helping minority businesses through several programs, including the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, also known as SBIR/SBTT. Through these programs, NASA encourages small, high-tech, and disadvantaged companies to partner with them to help meet their research and development needs in  key technology areas (Dunbar). This enables small companies to bring cutting-edge products into the US economy. Businesses use NASA’s programs to help develop new products that not only benefit the regional economy but also fortify the nation’s competitiveness in the global economy (Dunbar).

NASA has contributed to creating more than 1,750 spin-offs that have improved lives, standards of health, and standards of living (Dunbar). Many were unintended but have  transformed the lives of many people around the world. Several of these significant  advancements have benefited people in need as well as adding to life’s luxuries and making the world more efficient. Since 2001, NASA’s SBIR/STTR program has invested almost $40 million in 51 Ohio companies and more than $1.2 billion nationwide. In 2011 alone, NASA invested $270 million in the state of Ohio (Dunbar). These large investments, however, have paid off. Throughout the nation, much great technological advancement has been made because of NASA’s efforts. A NASA-proven winglet technology is estimated to save the airline industry billions. Blended winglets, the upturned ends on many airplane wings, are among some of NASA’s most successful fuel-saving, performance- enhancing technologies. Aviation Partners Boeing, a commercial airline partnership, predicts a total fuel savings greater than 5 billion gallons by year-end 2014. Not only does this invention benefit the company, but it also decreases their demand for fuel. Another innovation includes technology used to decontaminate polluted soil and groundwater. This innovation was originally used by NASA to neutralize toxic  chemicals in the soil near rocket-launching facilities. It is now used around the world to clean up polluted areas. This investment in technology has raised future standards of living.

NASA’s contributions also include several products that are used every day by consumers who may not realize it. One example of this is the cell phone camera. NASA originally developed technology to significantly miniaturize cameras on interplanetary spacecraft. Aptina Imaging Corporation then joined to create these cameras that would be used for everyday life. They then shipped more than 1billion complementary metal-oxide semiconductor sensors for use in digital cameras, camera phones, and Web cameras. Today, one of every three cell phone cameras features Aptina’s sensor technology (Dunbar). These are only a few examples of NASA-originated technology that have made a large-scale impact.

NASA and the US economy can be directly related. Two basic correlations are the jobs and technology created. A study done by the Midwest Research Institute showed that research and development (R&D) expenditures and technology-induced  increases in GNP are associated and can be compared. It was found that each dollar spent on R&D returns an average of slightly over seven dollars in GNP over an 18-year period following the expenditure . Going back to NASA’s original space programs, assuming that NASA’s R&D expenditures produce the same economic payoff as the average R&D expenditure, it was concluded that a total gain of $181 billion resulted from the $25 billion (1958) spent on civilian space R&D during the 1959–69 period. Of the total gain, $52 billion came in through 1970 and the rest continued to stimulate benefits through 1987 (Varone).The Space Division of Rockwell International also conducted a study of the macroeconomic impact of NASA’s R&D programs. The study focused on the correlation between NASA’s Space Shuttle program and employment in the state of California. Using an econometric model developed at UCLA, Rockwell estimated that the Space Shuttle program generated an employment multiplier of 2.8. This determines that the direct Shuttle employment of 95,300 man-years in California produced an increase of 266,000 man-years in total employment (Varone). NASA’s programs benefit the economy, not only by creating jobs but also by enhancing the nation’s development of technology and innovation.