1996

One of the tragedies of the early space program was a fire that occurred in an Apollo module causing the deaths of three astronauts. On investigation of the fire, it was found that some of the materials utilized in the spacecraft, such as polyurethane foam in seats, were highly flammable. NASA initiated an extensive research program to develop new flame resistant materials and/or ways to reduce the flammability of existing materials.

Research on the flammability of polymers indicated that many of these materials could be protected from direct ignition by the use of a coating of fire-resistant material. NASA Ames Research Center developed a novel encapsulation technology. As an application for this new technology, an advanced aircraft passenger and crew seat was developed. The seat consisted of conventional urethane foam enveloped in a fire-blocking layer of fabric. A typical seat of this composition passes a seat burn test with only a modest weight loss and no flame spread across the entire seat. This provides a considerable safety margin for exit as well as helping retard the emission of smoke and toxic gases. A non-treated seat in the same test is totally consumed in less than two minutes. In 1984 when the FAA issued a new regulation regarding the flammability of seat cushions, more than 600,000 seats were retrofitted with the fire-blocking system.

That rule increased chances of survival in aircraft accidents involving fire and smoke. It is estimated that use of this technology saves 20 to 25 lives each year with all the major domestic airlines, as well as a large number of international carriers, now using this technology.
One of the potential hazards confronted by astronauts is the shifting of bodily fluids that occur as a result of changing gravity levels. During the Apollo program, NASA's Ames Research Center began conducting research on the use of pilot `anti-G` suits for possible astronaut use. These anti-G suits were developed for pilots of high-performance aircraft who experienced rapid gravity changes. 

A key component of the suits is trousers that contain pneumatic bladders to counteract the fluid shifts. The development efforts of the Ames researchers successfully produced protection suits that have been incorporated into astronaut gear. In 1975, Ames produced a special-purpose inflatable garment and pressure controller. The suit was tested at Stanford Medical Center. In 1979, an editorial published in a medical journal described the use and value of this suit in controlling intra-abdominal bleeding or shock. Following numerous inquiries and requests for suits, Ames transferred the technology to many medical suppliers. Several companies now manufacture products that incorporate the NASA technology. 

Most states require ambulances to carry anti-shock garments. Paramedic use of these garments can reverse the effect of shock on the body's blood distribution. In shock, the brain, heart, and lungs may suffer loss of oxygen because blood accumulates in the lower abdomen and legs; the anti-shock garment applies external counterpressure to the legs and abdomen and returns blood to the vital organs, stabilizing body pressure until the patient reaches a hospital.
Spacecraft are subject to temperature extremes that range from 400° F above zero to 400° below zero. Protecting astronauts from these extreme temperatures was a prime concern for NASA spacecraft designers. NASA researchers sought after a temperature control technology for the Apollo spacecraft that would provide a barrier which was both lightweight and flexible and had sufficient durability to withstand the rigors of space. After considerable effort, a process technology was developed that permitted producing plastic films coated with a thin layer of aluminum. These thin ?etallized?plastics were utilized in virtually all spacecraft from then on. With this technology, the temperature in manned spacecraft could be controlled to permit a comfortable working environment. 

The radiant barrier was a useful temperature controller in space, so the earth applications possible, such as in insulating homes and office buildings, soon followed. U.S. firms acquiring the technology, such as Radiant Technologies, Inc. of Virginia and Quantum International Corporation (now Tech 2000) of Washington, manufacture and market insulation using a combination of high-grade aluminum overlaid around a core of fire-resistant propylene or Mylar. These radiant barriers are being used in home and commercial buildings, and in automobiles, trucks and food transports. The now multi-million-dollar metallized plastic market continues to grow. The thin ?pace blanket?and other clothing-related products offer excellent warmth at minimal weight and bulk. 

The technology has been used as wrappers for candy and other food products. Large packaging protection products such as aluminized shipping bags, pallet covers, food cart covers, and medical bags have also been developed.