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5 NASA Innovations that Helped Advance Space Exploration

Thursday, December 8, 2022
Categories : Market Trends

Space exploration is taking off! Over the past decade, we’ve seen the number of active satellites skyrocket from just over 1,000 in 2012 to almost 5,500 active satellites in orbit as of spring 2022. Now with a host of private-sector companies investing in space programs, there’s never been more interest in space exploration and the innovative technology behind it. To celebrate just how far we’ve come since the space race first began in the 1950s, we’re highlighting five of NASA’s greatest innovations that helped advance space exploration.

Voyager 1

Voyager I is the first human-made object to leave the Solar System and reach interstellar space. Launched in 1977 to study the outer planets, Voyager 1 gave us a close-up look at Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Among the findings of the space probe were new moons, active volcanoes, and significant data about the outer solar system.

Initially, Voyager 1 and 2, were launched to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment that would allow the probes to fly past multiple objects on the same trajectory. This alignment occurs only once every 176 years given the differing orbital velocities of the outer planets. After completing the planetary flybys, the spacecraft continued its trajectory, reaching interstellar space in August 2012. Thanks to the spacecraft’s innovative mechanical and electronic designs, nuclear fuel source, and sophisticated computer system, it is still transmitting data back to Earth to this day.

A visual rendering of the Voyager 1 probe in deep spaceA visual rendering of the Voyager 1 probe in deep space

Viking 1 Mars Lander

As the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, Viking 1 was part of a two-part mission to explore the planet and search for signs of life. Launched in 1975, Viking 1 was in operation for six years, the record for the longest Mars surface mission until 2010, when the Opportunity rover surpassed it. In addition to taking photographs of Mar’s surface, the Viking probe was equipped to conduct biological experiments and transmit data back to Earth.

NASA worked for years to develop the technology to provide the lander with a robotic arm and a revolutionary special biological laboratory to perform the first soil sample test on Mars. Although it did not find any life, Viking 1, along with its sibling spacecraft Viking 2, found that many of the same elements essential to life on Earth were also present on Mars. The data gathered on this mission has contributed significantly to our understanding of the red planet and development of technology to explore it further.

Viking 1 on the Martian surfaceViking 1 on the Martian surface. The sky has a red cast, due to reddish dust in the lower atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL

The F-1 Rocket Engine

The F-1, also known as Rocketdyne F-1, was the rocket engine used to launch NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which carried the Apollo astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and early 1970s. The foundation for the rocket engine began with an Air Force program developed by the aerospace firm, Rocketdyne. NASA inherited the project soon after their formation in 1960, contracted Rocketdyne to continue development, and began working toward the goal of lofting large orbital payloads into space, a goal which they would reach in only a few short years.

A total of five F-1 engines were required for first launch stage of each Saturn V. Prior to launch, most of the rocket’s mass, totaling over 4 million pounds, was primarily propellant such as rocket fuel and liquid oxygen oxidizer. The amount of fuel was a necessity, as the rockets needed to generate 7.5 million pounds of thrust to achieve liftoff, with each individual rocket generating 1.5 million pounds of thrust alone. As the most powerful single-nozzle, liquid-fuel rocket engine ever developed, the F-1 is one of the most legendary rocket engines ever built.

F-1 rocket engines mounted on a Saturn VOne of the F-1 rocket engines mounted on a Saturn V, on display at NASA’s Stennis Space Center

The Space Shuttle

As the first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle is one of NASA’s most iconic space crafts. The origins of the shuttle have roots in the 1950s, during which time the Air Force considered developing a reusable glider, followed by a prototype low orbit spaceplane with NASA in the early 1960s. Both projects were put on hold soon after to focus on NASA’s other programs, Gemini and Apollo. After a series of successful missions, NASA sought to develop a new vehicle to meet demands for future projects. And by 1972, President Nixon approved the shuttle for further development. It would have its inaugural flight less than ten years later.

Although the Space Shuttle remains an iconic and innovative craft in NASA’s history, the program almost ended in tragedy. In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off, claiming all seven lives aboard. The world grieved but ultimately celebrated those aboard the Challenger as heroes. Following a three-year hiatus, the program would continue on for another 25 years, pushing the bounds of discovery, and inspiring generations to come.  

Space shuttle flying above the Earths atmosphereA 3D rendering of the space shuttle flying above the Earth’s atmosphere

The International Space Station

As the largest and most expensive machine to ever leave Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) is a science laboratory designed for long-term space exploration and scientific experimentation across various fields. It is a multinational collaboration from five different space agencies: NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The first component for the station was launched in 1998, with construction beginning in November. Several modules were launched and docked robotically, while the rest were delivered via space shuttle and constructed in orbit. There are currently over 160 modular components that make up the ISS, with the most recent addition being added in 2021.

Over 250 people from 20 different countries have visited the ISS since 2000, the year the first residents arrived. It has been continuously occupied ever since for over 22 years and counting. 

International Space Station orbiting around EarthThe International Space Station orbiting around Earth

Innovative Ideas Need Custom Components to Get the Job Done

From the rockets that first carried us to the moon to the creation of the International Space Station, designing for space exploration and technology requires world-class components that can perform under the most demanding environments — like speed, weather, pressure, temperature — and the great unknowns of outer space. While we may not be directly involved with all of the innovations stemming from the milestones on this list, our components play a big role in making space technology possible. Why? Because innovative ideas often need custom hermetically sealed connectors for sensitive and critical electrical systems to work.

Our Insider’s Guide to Customizing Hermetic Connectors will tell you everything you need to know about market trends driving decisions, key issues impacting the customization process, and questions to ask to accelerate the design process.

 An Insiders guide to customizing hermetic connectors for military and aerospace applications

Since 1945, Hermetic Seal has been the go-to premier designer and manufacturer of high-reliability custom hermetically sealed electrical interconnection devices. Our products are used in sensing and actuating systems by the aerospace and defense, oil and gas, and medical device industries worldwide.

Hermetic Seal Corporation designs, engineers, and manufactures custom hermetically sealed connectors to meet the needs of innovative systems that require proprietary designs and connector customization. Contact us today to learn how our custom products can help your innovative idea take flight.


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