Among the “spinoffs” from NASA are its engineers, who go on to found private companies. Alliance Spacesystems is one of them. In creating robotic arms for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the former NASA engineers wanted to make it easier to collaborate with computer-aided-design documents. They came up with a PDF collaboration code—and spun off another company, Bluebeam Software Inc., to market it. Bluebeam recently sold to a German tech company for $100 million. How does the software add to the invention-discovery cycle? Engineers throughout NASA—and everywhere else, for that matter—now have a relatively inexpensive, efficient way to exchange and mark up PDF design documents, making invention that much easier.
Similarly, back in the Eighties, NASA software engineer Craig Collier wrote software at the Langley Research Center to help design a hypersonic spaceplane. While the plane itself never got off the ground, the software did, through the private Collier Research Corporation. Collier perfected his code, called HyperSizer, which allows engineers to model weight and load requirements for various vehicle designs. Recently, the company expanded from commercial aircraft design to optimizing wind turbines.