Five Space Inventions Helping the Developing World
From non-stick frying pans to squirt guns to keeping our homes warm, innovations that originated as space inventions are used each and every day right here on earth. But, some space inventions have become even more useful than ever imagined, and are now helping fight poverty in the developing world. Here is a look at five space inventions and some of the ways each helps to alleviate human suffering.

Baby Blankets
From NASA’s efforts in the 1980’s to create a material that could both insulate and cool astronauts facing extreme temperatures during spacewalks came phase-change materials, or PCM’s. Although this material never made it into astronaut’s gloves, the space invention that emerged proved effective for insulating. In 2013, Jen Chen created a company called Embrace Innovations, which makes swaddles and blankets using PCM technology. The Embrace business model is simple: buy a blanket or swaddle for your baby and one is donated to a baby in need in the developing world. To date, 200,000 babies have been reached across 10 countries.

Solar Energy
When NASA began studying Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) to develop uninhabited aircraft that could sustain long-duration flights without interruption, the need for new innovative solar power sources became paramount. Among the space inventions that resulted: single-crystal silicon solar cells that significantly reduced the cost of solar power. With billions still living without electricity worldwide, solar power has proved effective in helping get clean water, mobile charging, and general illumination to the developing world.

Freeze-dried Food
Through an alliance with Nestle, in the pre-Apollo era, NASA developed a technique for freeze-drying food which made the transportation of numerous orbital delight feasible. Today, freeze-dried food is used to prevent spoilage while providing life-saving nutrient-rich substance to people suffering from hunger in the developing world. For example, Stop Hunger Now, a non-profit based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, operates meal-packing programs in 20 cities worldwide. They ship dehydrated rice and soy meals that are fortified with 23 nutrients and vitamins to not only help solve the problem of hunger in the world but also help provide essential nutrients to those living with a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

Baby Formula
In an effort to alleviate some of the challenges of eating in space while also reducing waste, NASA, with the contracted help of Marietta Laboratories, worked with micro-algae to develop a special three-in-one food source. The invention didn’t work out as space-food; however, Marietta’s research provided the technology used to place nutritional supplements into infant formula and baby food. One in four children around the world suffers from chronic malnutrition that stunts their growth. And, due to poverty and poor nutrition, an estimated 200 million children under age five suffer from under-developed cognition. With nutrient-enriched baby food, organizations helping to fight poverty and malnutrition in the developing world have a better chance to reach children during the most critical stages of development— conception to two years.

Some space inventions have not only changed the world but also changed the way we look at it. While the link between satellites, NASA and space are obvious, their ability to help feed those living in the developing world is a bit more complex. Satellites can generate images of vegetation that, in turn, can measure “greenness” and provide real-time rainfall data and imagery. Thus, this space invention helps officials and policy makers monitor for potential crop failures throughout the developing world. With better prediction capabilities comes better awareness, and with better awareness comes the ability to prevent food shortages. NASA has even teamed up with the USAID through a new environmental monitoring program in West Africa called SERVIR-West Africa. The program plans to enhance the use of data collected from satellite imagery to help fight hunger by helping officials better manage climate issues that affect crop harvesting and nutritional planning.

Ashley Henyan

Photo: Flickr

PEER Research
Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research is a competitive, international grants program that offers scientists researching funds in developing countries to address global development challenges.

PEER Research is designed to leverage federal science agency funding from NASA, NIH, NSF, Smithsonian Institution, USDA and USGS by supporting scientists from impoverished countries in areas including water resource management, climate change, agriculture, nutrition and maternal and child health.

Since its launch in 2011, PEER has supported more than 200 projects in over 45 countries, with a total investment of more than $50 million. These projects address gaps in scientific knowledge to combat global poverty.

PEER not only catalyzes collaborative research between scientists in developing countries and their U.S.-funded counterparts but also elevates the use of science and technology to further USAID’s development objectives.

“Collaboration is key for accelerating the impact of scientific research on development,” said Ann Mei Chang, USAID’s chief innovation officer and executive director of the U.S. Global Development Lab.

Besides scientific collaboration, PEER Research also hopes to see scientists from developing countries improve their negotiating skills, innovation and commercialization as well as different methods of communicating research to policymakers in their home countries. In this approach, PEER strives to strengthen the research ecosystem in developing countries and enable partners to become better collaborators in development.

PEER significantly helps strengthen the global scientific research community by providing opportunities for the best scientists to collaborate on crucial development issues. The following are PEER’s past successful stories:

Climate Change
In Southeast Asia, researchers successfully built emissions models for predicting air quality scenarios. The findings have effectively informed policies in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia to reduce emissions.

In Morocco, researchers have developed a computer-based instructional tool that helps translate Modern Standard Arabic into Moroccan Sign Language in real time, aiding hearing-impaired students in learning and accessing to education.

Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission
In Malawi, researchers work together to evaluate the effectiveness of Option B+, a promising antiretroviral treatment to mother-to-child HIV transmission and inform the public and the government of the results of their work.

“The research partnerships nurtured through this program are crucial to building capacity among local scientists and research institutions, strengthening linkages with international research institutions and finding solutions to global development challenges,” said USAID Vietnam Mission Director Mike Greene.

Yvie Yao

Photo: Flickr

Space Missions to the Developing World
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has partnered with Sierra Nevada Corporation to bring space missions to the developing world by 2021. The unmanned missions are intended to make space exploration affordable for developing nations while fostering peaceful collaboration between nations with no space program.

Dream Chaser will fly for two weeks in low Earth orbit with 20-25 lab stations containing microgravity experiments from countries around the world. The experiments will remain in orbit for the duration of the trip and will return to Earth intact.

UNOOSA plans to solicit proposals and select winning submissions via scientific panel by early 2018 for inclusion on Dream Chaser in 2021. Any U.N. member country is eligible to apply, but the program is aimed at developing countries.

Dreamer Chaser is 30-feet long and has been called a “mini-shuttle” with the ability to carry up to seven passengers. The aircraft has also been used by NASA for crewless missions such as resupply and trash disposal services for the International Space Station.

Sierra Nevada Corporation refers to Dream Chaser as a Space Utility Vehicle. It is the smaller, updated version of the Space Shuttle intended for smaller loads. It can land at any airport where a 737 can land. The Dream Chaser is not owned by NASA or the U.S. Government, so it can be leased to other countries or agencies interested in space exploration and experimentation.

UNOOSA and Sierra Nevada Corporation are seeking sponsors for the program. Countries submitting an experiment are charged a fee, but the goal is to make this fee affordable so that participation is accessible to countries with limited resources.

The goal is not only to design successful experiments but to also further the development and preparation process as a valuable scientific learning experience. According to Luc St-Pierre, the chief of UNOOSA’s Space Applications, the preparation for such an endeavor will leave a lasting impact on participating countries with the potential to foster an environment of exploration and development.

Programs and research in space can assist with human issues such as climate change, natural disasters, managing resources and global health. However, could investments in space programs also spur new types of development thereby reducing global poverty?

The goal of Dream Chaser is to bring space missions to the developing world. Space technology has the potential to support development in these areas contingent on partnerships rather than aid. Dream Chaser is an exciting project and could represent a new frontier in the developing world.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr

Feeding the World

About 800 million people (one in nine) worldwide are still undernourished. Creating food sustainability is a growing need across the globe. In recent reports by the Guardian, Africa could face the worst food crisis since 1985, with 50 million people going hungry.

Continued droughts have spread across Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Madagascar, Angola, Swaziland and South Africa, causing the season’s crops to fail.

Even worse, unsustainable farming practices have been destroying fertile lands necessary for food production. Soy production, for example, destroys 55 million tons of topsoil in Brazil each year. Similarly, destructive crops are coffee, palm oil, tobacco, wheat and corn. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, 30 percent of global arable land has already been degraded.

While nearly a billion people still need proper access to food, expensive appetites and irresponsible corporations have been abusing land and practicing unsustainable farming methods.

The practice of raising livestock for meat has contributed to global warming by deforesting areas that would otherwise cleanse the air of carbon dioxide, and by adding methane to the air. Raising livestock also requires the use of massive amounts of water. Agriculture accounts for one-third of global greenhouse emissions and 80 percent of water usage in the US.

Because of the lack of sustainability of many current farming practices, and the need to feed much of the developing world, scientists have proposed new technologies to tackle these challenges. One proposed controversial method of sustainability is in vitro meat production — producing meat in a laboratory.

In theory, the practice would rid the food production industry of all the traditional worries of raising livestock and handling the waste produced. However, the procedure may be extremely energy-intensive in keeping the meat sterile and the process may eventually also contribute to global warming. Once optimized, the world’s growing desire for meat may have the chance to shift to this laboratory product.

Another technology currently under development by NASA is 3D food printing, which would convert basic proteins, carbohydrates and fats into actual foods. The technology could utilize alternative ingredients like insects or algae to source sustainably but also satisfy our specific appetites.

Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have the potential to be sustainable  and help end hunger, although they are also very controversial. In Uganda, the World Bank has helped introduce a non-native, biofortified sweet potato that would combat the stunting of children’s growth and help empower women farmers with economic independence. The sweet potato provides a child’s daily dose of Vitamin A in less than two ounces and gives women the opportunity to grow and sell the food.

While scientists have proposed many ideas for feeding the world in a sustainable manner, public opinion has been the crux to progress. With such bitter backlash to GMOs and other non-natural foods, funding will always be limited. These technologies will have to be supported and developed in the richest nations before they can safely and effectively be implemented for the poorest.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

What do you think of when you think of NASA technology? “Space” is probably going to be the answer most people give, unless they’ve heard of SERVIR, the result of a partnership between NASA, USAID, the World Bank in Washington, and several other organizations.

Daniel Irwin, the director of the program, knows this better than anyone. “When people think of NASA,” he says, “they think of Mars Exploration Rovers or finding water on the moon, but a big part of our mission is to study earth from space, to advance scientific understanding and meet societal needs.”

SERVIR is actually not an acronym – it is taken from the Spanish word meaning “to serve,” because the goal of the initiative is to do just that.

By combining NASA’s technology and humanitarian groups’ understanding of what areas need what resources and what would benefit people the most, SERVIR is able to better serve the needs of populations.

The NASA website says that the resources developed by SERVIR can help governments and other agencies to more effectively “respond to natural disasters, [improve] food security, safeguard human health, [and] manage water and natural resources.”

SERVIR has hubs at locations throughout the globe, ad just this August, SERVIR-Mekong was launched in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Mekong river is located in Southeast Asia that acts as a major trade route to China. Depending on the seasons, the Mekong sometimes floods the surrounding area, leaving the residents of the Mekong area in severe need.

This is one of the reasons why Mekong was chosen as a location for this SERVIR project.

The Mekong center in particular was the result of NASA and USAID partnership with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC.) This is a partnership that will work to make land use more sustainable and to monitor and (hopefully) decrease the effects of climate change.

For example, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is something that can be monitored with NASA technology. It is an indicator that comes from the amount of light reflected off of the surface of the earth based on the quantity and quality of plant life.

Areas that have lots of healthy vegetation will have a high NDVI and vice versa. Understanding the NDVI of an area can provide everyone from small farmers to forestry service personnel a better understanding of where to plant crops, develop urban centers, and more carefully preserve vegetation.

The power to help individuals and populations all over the world better respond to the effects of climate change extends to areas of food security and water resourcing as well. It truly is a remarkable innovation.

NASA technology can also be used to chart the course of natural disasters. For example, in the past, during hurricanes, it has allowed scientists to map out the paths of mudslides, which allowed them to understand which areas would be most affected and need the most help.

SERVIR’s track record has been vastly successful. Its team has worked with over 200 institutions in over 30 countries to develop local solutions, and to link local offices all over the globe in a network of ideas and innovations. Over 40 custom tools have been developed through the work of SERVIR.

It’s an excellent example of many of the tenets of humanitarianism: utilizing technology, creating partnerships, thinking big (even beyond the global scale) and dedicating existing resources towards a worthwhile cause.

As Irwin says, NASA technology and USAID’s resources together are helping to create “real time, real world applications that are changing the lives of people where they live.”

Emily Dieckman

Sources: USAID, NASA, Servir Global, Washington Post
Photo: AmericaSpace


For years we have all heard that climate change threatens the sustainable future of our environment. After studying the changes and effects of the climate on the biosphere, 97 percent of climatologists agree that these climate-warming trends will only continue, especially since human activities are the most likely cause of these trends, according to NASA. Reducing these trends will not only provide a safer and healthier environment for future generations, but it will also help those living in extreme poverty.

Especially in developing countries, the poor rely heavily on their environment. According to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the use of forest resources contributes to the livelihood of almost 1.6 billion people globally. Forests provide essential resources such as food, fuel, medicine and even income, showing that these billions of people and the environment in which they live share an interdependent relationship with one another.

With the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on the rise, the livelihoods and habitats of these people could soon disappear completely. It is for this reason that USAID announced the plan to give 45 million Kenyan shillings to a global climate change initiative, which will address a variety of environmental concerns, such as the loss of biodiversity, deforestation and other vulnerabilities to climate change.

With this initiative and other programs already in place, researchers are hopeful that poverty might also decrease along with the effects of climate change. Purdue University researchers announced on May 29 that global malnutrition — one of the key causes of poverty — could decrease by 84 percent by 2050. This would be a huge decrease, since the U.N. currently estimates that approximately 870 million people suffer from malnourishment globally.

However, this percentage decrease relies heavily on the improvements to be made in agricultural productivity and if climate change does not damage that productivity. Although researchers at Purdue University agree that an increase in temperatures and carbon dioxide could benefit agricultural productivity for some time by lengthening the season and improving water proficiency, they also agree that these possible benefits would only be temporary.

All this shows that climate change could have a direct impact on not only nutrition levels, but also the environments of the poor in developing countries. Since these issues are so closely connected, U.N. advisor Professor Jeffrey Sachs warned the New Environmentalism Summit that “We have to tackle climate change if we are to have any hope of tackling poverty.” Sachs also stressed the idea that climate change is not a problem for future generations, but a problem that we must address in today’s society.

Global leaders are experimenting with ways to address this issue, and many, like Sachs, hope that climate change will be a central element in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, which will expand on the current Millennium Development Goals, to continue global progress in a variety of health and societal issues after 2015. Regardless of disagreements over how to best resolve this problem, climate trends must be addressed in some way to not only help the poor, but also the planet.

— Meghan Orner

Sources: NASA, FAO, All Africa, Purdue University, Business Green, U.N.
Photo: The Guardian


Soybeans and Global Food Security
A recent study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California has shown that soybeans can be re-engineered to grow in more arid environments without losing standard crop yield. If the new varieties prove durable, the cultivation of soybeans in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will help address food insecurity issues in the region. Here are five reasons why soybeans are important in addressing global food security:

1. Food production must increase by 70 percent to meet the world’s food needs by 2050.

There are a number of factors that will affect global food security in the coming decades including: population increase, movement away from rural areas and toward urban centers, food production and climate change.

Today, undernourishment affects 870 million people worldwide. Between now and 2050, there will be an additional two billion people on our planet, with around 24 million children pushed into hunger due to food security issues.

2. Soybeans are one of the world’s most important protein crops.

Soybeans have a protein content of over 35 percent, as well as healthy unsaturated fats and carbohydrate fibers, making them some of the healthiest food sources around. They are also one of the least expensive sources of protein when compared to eggs, milk, beef and cow peas.

Due to the use of soybeans in both the food and animal feed industries, soybean farmers can earn a substantial amount of cash because the crop can be successfully grown at a low cost of production.

3. Modifying soybeans can address both climate challenges and food insecurity.

In a recent study led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL,) computer models have been applied to look for a super soybean. The research study determined that soybean plants can be redesigned to increase crop yield by 7 percent without using more water. The study also demonstrated that soybeans can be redesigned to use either 13 percent less water, or reflect 34 percent more light back into space without reducing crop yields–good for both food security and climate change.

While other geo-engineering solutions for climate change tend to be expensive, such as spraying sulfates into the upper atmosphere in order to reduce incoming sunlight or loading the ocean with iron in order to increase plankton photosynthesis, modifying annual crops is inexpensive and can be implemented quickly.

4. Soybean cultivation is growing in Africa.

Research by the University of Agriculture Makurdi in Nigeria in collaboration with the International Institute of Agriculture (IITA), aims to help improve the lives and livelihoods of small-hold farmers in the drought-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia by providing more durable soybean varieties that can stand up against more arid conditions. Like the redesigned varieties in the JPL study, new varieties being promoted in Africa can help increase crop yields without using more water.

Soybean production remains relatively isolated in Africa, with Nigeria as the largest soybean producer, followed by South Africa and Uganda. However, the new, more durable varieties may allow for more countries to begin cultivating soybeans, helping improve the health of their populations as well as reducing local poverty.

5. Soybeans could have a long-term impact on poverty.

Food and water security will be a major national security focus in the coming decades as both climate change and population increases affect food production worldwide. Countries lacking basic food resources to feed their growing urban populations may become hotbeds for conflict, unrest and terrorist activities.

While many solutions for food insecurity should be addressed and considered by lawmakers, scientists and farmers alike, soybean technology is a first step in addressing the needs of poverty stricken regions by providing a modified crop that can meet multiple goals.

Re-engineered soybeans are an innovative (and healthy) way to help address local food security issues worldwide. Not only do they provide a good food source, but their wide use in products from oils to food to animal feed guarantee a lucrative market for local farmers. Reducing poverty through innovative changes in the way staple crops are traditionally grown is an economical and feasible way to bring food security, in light of climate and population challenges, to developing regions of the world.

– Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Daily Trust, United Nations Conference on Trade And Development, Intech, NASA, VOA News, World Food Programme, Stop Hunger Now
Photo: HD WAll IMG

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” – President Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 2013

This past October, only 67% of Americans believed that global warming is affecting the world, according to a pole by Pew Research Center. On a list of 20 world issues that the Congress and president needed to focus on, global warming ranked number 19 according to Americans.

In response to this, President Obama is currently working on a website that will enable Americans to view how the ever-changing climate is affecting their own regions and hometowns. John D. Podesta, Obama’s counselor, believes that “localizing this information gives a sense of how this affects people and spurs actions. If you’re thinking…how your local community will be affected, it’s likely to change that question of salience.”

Podesta and John P. Holdren, the White House science adviser, formed the idea of, which strives to illustrate data of calculated wildfires, dangerously rising sea levels and dry spells.

Their website is based on urgency and helping Americans to understand the necessity of focusing on the environment; it is also based on the necessity to prepare Americans for the affect that the damaged climate will have in the future. The Obama administration is currently helping governments to strengthen their methods of transportation, such as bridges, shorelines and roads, so that the local community would be protected from dangerous changes in weather that are more common because of the climate change.

Obama stated that one of the most important steps to alleviating climate change is to reinforce international relations. In doing so the US will work with other countries to find a global solution to this global challenge and spread action through major countries that contribute to pollution emissions.

In the beginning stages, Podesta and Holdren’s website will merely feature information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the United States Geological Survey and the Defense Department. They are expecting the first revealed page to primarily focus on sea levels and eroding and flooding coastal lines.

Most people are aware of Google Maps and Google Earth, Google’s projects in which you can locate most addresses on the globe, and they are considering mixing their ability to map with the government’s information on climate change and risk measurements.

With this website the US population will have a greater chance to understand the imminent danger that climate change is bringing, and they will also have a visual representation of the potential harm it could bring their states and hometowns.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: White House, The New York Times, Climate Action Plan
Photo: Politico

The Global Poverty Mapping Project, run by NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) in collaboration with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), is an attempt to increase the public’s general understanding of the global distribution of poverty. By creating maps that demonstrate the distribution of impoverished populations as well as the link of poverty to geographic and physical conditions, the project aims to assist policymakers and agencies in developing effective interventions to downsize global poverty.

Depictions of global poverty, either illustrative or written, tend to focus on economic representations based off of a country’s GDP or the percentage of a population that is living on less than a certain amount per day (for example, less than USD $1). Though these figures make the information easily accessible to a wide audience, such figures are not readily available at a sub-national level for many of the world’s countries. As such, the project utilizes five main data sets that were constructed by CIESIN: Unsatisfied Basic Needs, Small Area Estimates of Poverty and Inequality, Poverty and Food Security Case Studies, Global Subnational Prevalence of Child Malnutrition, and Global Subnational Infant Mortality Rates.

The child malnutrition and infant mortality rates are used to generate global and regional maps, while the mapping project synthesizes maps of smaller areas based on poverty and inequality. Each data set incorporates a vast array of variables, and as such, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, all of the data presented are direct indicators of poverty levels.

All of the maps that have been created by the project are available on their website. They can be searched and sorted by geographic area, data sets involved, and themes – including infrastructure, sustainability, and everything in between. The maps themselves represent a significant step forward in the fight against poverty. Having knowledge of problem areas is the first step in creating policy to combat it. By providing a statistical representation of the specific issues that affect these poverty-stricken areas, the Project has also compiled an invaluable resource for policy makers.

Poverty mapping has since found its place in a wide variety of media. The data has been used to support arguments and demonstrate a need for change in everything from NASA publications to New York Times articles. It has been applied to studies that focus on issues ranging from the dangers faced by small schools in earthquake-prone zones of Pakistan to measuring economic growth based on light production. By synthesizing and condensing the vast amount of data, the efforts of the Global Poverty Mapping Project have proved instrumental in highlighting the need for intervention in the fight against global poverty.

– Rebecca Beyer
Feature Writer

Sources: SEDAC, NASA, New York Times
Photo: Info Chimp

Nasa Development
A recent event held by the Society for International Development in Washington, DC highlighted the SEVIR program, a joint venture of NASA and USAID. Started in 2004 the program provides essential geospatial and earth-based observations to developing countries in Central America, Africa and the Himalayas. This information is used to monitor environmental impacts and natural disaster damages.

Science experts help convert the raw data into a usable form that governments and non-governmental organizations can use. USAID provides the developmental expertise to assist in directing this information to useful topics and applicable to issues confronting developing nations. SERVIR provides information in the following areas of interest for developing nations: water, weather, biodiversity, climate, disasters, ecosystems, and air and health quality.

USAID also assists the host governments to build technological capacity. The program’s goal is for host governments to assume responsibility for the scientific data and application. In order to support this self-sustaining aspect the program implementers work closely with the host nations.

NASA and USAID signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2011 that expanded SERVIR’s programs to include food security, climate change, and environmental and energy management.

NASA and USAID also partner with the State Department and Nike on LAUNCH, a program encouraging technology innovation in the private and public sectors to help create a better world. In April the LAUNCH partners held a conference focusing on sustainable material development. Under this call for technological innovation, individuals or teams may submit project ideas. Those selected will participate in a creative immersion project with funding opportunities.

Previous recipients of LAUNCH support include projects for clean water, renewable energy, and biodegradable vaccination needles, and future projects supported by NASA and USAID feature the promotion of education in the sciences.

The SID Washington event focused on SERVIR’s projects in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region. The Himalayan regional node, launched in 2010, provides satellite imagery of rural, mountain areas previously unavailable. Countries served by the Himalayan regional node include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: NASA, SIDW, Nike Inc.
Photo: Engadget