Dr. Handschuh’s origin story reminds us that the future still has room for gears. NASA might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about gearing innovations, but their researchers are active in our field because even very small improvements in performance are important for flight controls, helicopter power trains, and remotely piloted vehicles.
Think about how much extra data the longer than expected life of those Mars rovers provided. You can be confident that somewhere within the agency, a team is pouring over the design calculations to absorb the lessons from those missions and applying them to the next design iteration.
Another aspect of Dr. Handschuh’s experience is the support the agency provided to help him get his advanced degrees. Very few Americans get doctorate degrees in engineering because so few companies see the commercial value in it. NASA understands that if you want to reach the stars you need the most knowledgeable team possible. How many private employers would support the long and expensive march from an associate’s degree to a Ph.D.?
Just paying for tuition and books is not the whole story, though. As a “night school” kid myself, I am in awe of anyone with the discipline and family backing to see things through to completion. As taxpayers we should be happy to know government service attracts such dedicated people.
NASA scientists have been involved in plenty of “earth based” innovations, including some of the initial wind turbine designs of the modern, post-1975 “energy crisis” years and solar panels.