NASA's Most Surprising Spinoff

The spinoffs that don’t directly go back into the space invention-discovery cycle nonetheless play a big role in the economy, and in improving our well-being. Not all of them have to do with inventions you can hold in your hand. NASA was a pioneer in the development of systems science—the development of methods to manage enormously complex operations.

The development of systems science and engineering over the decades went hand in hand with improvements in software engineering. The code written for NASA in turn has formed a rich ore of data that companies have mined in unrelated sectors. For example, NASA’s Ames Research Center provided software that allows other kinds of systems to detect problems. CEMSol LLC, a Phoenix-based company that creates healthcare software, licensed system-monitoring software from Ames that uses data to track components of health-care systems, establish a baseline for normal behavior, and watch for any deviations from that behavior. The software was designed to actually warn airline pilots and mechanics of possible impending aircraft failures. CEMSol’s Integrated System Health Management programs have been used in medical centers around the world.