How has NASA improved TV technology?

Space Technology in Your TV

The technology NASA developed for improving its own missions has resulted in commercial applications around the world. NASA calls these "spinoffs." Here are just a few of NASA's TV technology spinoffs:

  • You can purchase a TV satellite dish to capture TV signals directly from a satellite service provider rather than a land-based TV tower or cable connection. NASA developments for improving the picture and sound received from satellites are now part of commercial satellite dishes. [source: NASA]
  • Historically, UHF television channels, which operate on a higher frequency than VHF channels, required satellites to transmit signals at a much higher power than VHF. A NASA-developed, power-amplifying device, called the Multistage Depressed Collector (MDC), added to UHF televisions eliminated the need for this extra power, making UHF satellites more efficient. [source: NASA]
  • NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (S.R.T.M.) gathered data for making 3-D computer models of most of the Earth's surface. This mapping technology is contributing to the development of high-resolution 3-D TV, which could lead to 3-D broadcasts for live-on-location news reporting. [source: CBS]

Another NASA TV innovation resulted from the demands of a new, unexpected audience following the 1969 moon landing: TV viewers intrigued by outer space [source: Abramson]. NASA TV broadcasts immediately followed, carrying footage of subsequent Apollo missions. NASA television is publicly accessible and free to watch, and today it's an all-digital broadcast featuring four separate channels: Public, Media, Education and HD. Thanks to NASA TV, viewers have shared in NASA's triumphs and tragedies, from the first images captured from the surface of Mars to the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger to the present. In 2009, NASA TV received the Philo T. Farnsworth Primetime Emmy Award in recognition of "engineering excellence' and to commemorate "the 40th anniversary of the technological innovations" that led to the first live TV broadcast from the moon [source: NASA].

It's hard to imagine how television would have developed without NASA. Would we have found a way to put satellites into space? It's difficult to know, but we can say for certain that NASA was the key to taking us around the world and beyond through our TV screens.

Related Articles


  • Abramson, Albert. "The History of Television, 1942 to 2000." McFarland &
  • Company, Inc. 2003.
  • CBS News. "Satellites Change How We See the Earth." CBS Interactive Inc. 2000. (March 15, 2011)
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC). "Historical Periods in Television Technology: Wired, Zapped, and Beamed, 1960's through 1980's." Nov. 21, 2005. (March 15, 2011)
  • IEEE. "The building of the Telstar antennas and randomes." Antennas and Propagation Magazine, IEEE." Vol. 44, Issue 2. April 2002. pp. 80-90.
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology. "Explorer 1: History." Jan. 31, 2003. (March 15, 2011)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "Apollo Lunar Surface Journal: 2009 Emmy for NASA TV." (March 15, 2011)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "Spinoffs 1996: Television Transmission Technology." (March 15, 2011)
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). "Student Features: Spinoffs that Rock!" Aug. 28, 2003. (March 15, 2011)
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  • U.S. House of Representatives. "NASA at 50: Past Accomplishments and Future Opportunities and Challenges." Hearing before the Committee on Science and Technology, House of Representatives, One Hundred Tenth Congress, Second Session. Serial No. 110-118. July 30, 2008.

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