Whenever you think of NASA, images of spaceships, astronauts in spacesuits and satellites may be the first things that come to mind, but there were actually plenty of other items developed, created or inspired by NASA that we currently use here every day on Earth.
NASA has been responsible for more than 2,000 technologies, which have become commercial and everyday products. NASA also inspired generations of space lovers and enthusiasts as well which the impact is immeasurable! You can thank NASA for these items:
1. Memory foam
In 1966, NASA contracted an aeronautical engineer named Charles Yost to improve airline seating to protect astronauts from shock and crash during takeoffs and landings. Yost eventually developed an open-cell polymeric “memory” foam which that matches any pressure exerted on it since it can absorb any amounts of pressure due to its viscoelastic properties. It was very good at absorbing impact and providing soft cushion to avoid injuries.
Eventually, this material has been incorporated in a variety of applications such as in civilian and military aircraft, automobiles, sports safety equipment, horseback saddles, furniture, football helmets and shoes. The memory foam is also most loved when used in pillows and mattresses. And sleeping on these memory foam mattresses is truly too comfortable; it makes leaving the bed every morning a struggle.
2. Cell phone cameras
Nowadays, more people are using their phones to take photos or to make a Facebook live video more often than to actually make a call. Interestingly, NASA also had to do with this technology. It was hard to convince conspiracy theorists, so astronauts need to snap high-quality digital space images without using heavy and bulky equipment. This led to the development of digital photography during the 1960s.
For decades, NASA engineers sought ways to create small, lightweight image sensors that can withstand the harsh environments in space while still getting high-definition photos. Eventually, they have developed CMOS sensors, allowing NASA to equip its spacecraft with small cameras. This technology was later integrated to cell phones, causing sales of mobile phones to skyrocket. Advanced camera features like zoom, pan, motion detection, target tracking and image compression also had its roots as NASA. In 2011, one out of every three cell phone cameras in the world is using the same technology as NASA used.
3. Baby formula
It’s hard to imagine a connection between space flight and baby food, but the connection really does exist. Infant formulas nowadays contain a nutritional enrichment ingredient which existed because of a NASA-sponsored research that explored how algae can be used on long space trips as food supply. Their studies, which were conducted back in the 1980s, led to the creation of Formulaid, an algae-based vegetable-like oil. During the research, scientists discovered that the ingredients were useful not just for astronauts, but also for everyone on Earth as a nutritional supplement. It also happened to contain the omega-3 fatty acid, which is naturally found in breast milk that is important for brain and vision development for infants.
Formulaid is now added to almost 90 percent of infant formulas sold in the US and 65 other countries. It’s interesting to know that we drank some algae as babies.
4. Scratch-resistant lenses
The FDA decided in 1972 that all eyeglass lenses must be shatter-proof, meaning it could no longer be made from glass. Eyeglass manufacturers turned to plastics, which were less expensive to manufacture, far better absorber of ultraviolet radiation and lighter in weight as compared to glass. But plastic is highly susceptible to scratching and it has been a huge disadvantage. Around the same time, NASA was developing an abrasion-resistant coating for the astronauts’ visors, helmets and other plastic-surfaced aerospace equipment.
An eyeglass manufacturer Foster-Grant obtained a license in NASA in 1983 for the scratch-resistant coating technology. The company combined its own technology with NASA’s creation and produced a superior kind of lens. Other manufacturers followed suit and now, the majority of eyeglasses (corrective or protective) sold are made of plastic and has a scratch-resistant layer.
5. Survival blankets
Those lightweight survival blanket you take with you in first aid kits and in camping is also invented by NASA. In 1964, NASA first developed the space blankets, which was made of a thin plastic sheet coated with reflecting metallic agent called metallized polyethylene terephthalate (MPET). It reflected 97% of radiated heat and prevents body heat loss caused by convection, thermal radiation and water evaporation.
NASA made use of the material as a parasol-like sunshield to protect Skylab, and is now used in the Mars rovers and Hubble Space telescope. The same insulation technology from NASA was used in thermal blankets usually used in outdoor activities and are frequently given out to victims of natural disasters.
6. Invisible braces
A beautiful smile hardly seems like rocket science. But the invisible dental braces were developed from the technology used to track heat-seeking missiles. No, these braces were not made from missile components – the transparent polycrystalline alumina (TPA) developed by NASA that was developed for missile work is a component for both products. It was useful in the electro-optical field and even IR night vision. TPA is stronger than steel and is highly resistant to breakage.
When TPA was deemed usable for dental use, invisible braces made from this transparent ceramic material were created by Invisalign. Thanks to them, they made it possible for teeth to be adjusted without those uncomfortable and bulky metal braces.
7. Better tires
Radial tires have been existing since 1915, but they had a huge improvement in 1976 when Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company developed a fibrous material for NASA’s Viking Lander parachute shroud. It was used to improve landing on the Martian surface. The fiber’s chain-like molecular structure made it stronger and more durable.
Recognizing its potential in consumer cars, the tires were adapted by the company in manufacturing radial tires. It increased the tread life of a conventional radial by 10,000 miles.
8. Water purification
Most of us cannot live without purified drinking water and we think we could die without it. Well, think about the astronauts. They spend months and even years in space, but surely, they can’t pack enough supply of water? To make sure they had that “luxury,” NASA developed water filtration systems back in the 70s. They used cartridge filters and iodine. Nowadays, this technology is widely used to make sure water tastes clearly like water.
In 2008, NASA also launched a water reclamation system to sustain the astronauts living on the International Space Station and in the future. The technology, called the Microbial Check Valve, is making use of available resources such as wastewater like sweat, urine and respiration, and turning them into drinkable water. In commercial applications, this technology is already benefiting people who need clean and affordable drinking water.
9. Portable vacuum
Black & Decker has been contracted by NASA to create a portable, self-contained drill capable of extracting samples from below the surface of the moon. The company even developed a computer program to optimize the design of the drill’s motor and to insure minimal energy consumption. This technology was used by the Apollo and Gemini space missions.
Eventually, the computer program led Black & Decker to develop a small, cordless vacuum cleaner called the Dustbuster. It became popular among homeowners when it was launched. We never would have thought that NASA caused that wonder cleaning tool.
10. Better video footages
Now we know NASA influenced brought camera technology into mobile phones, perhaps it’s only logical to expect that they enhanced video images as well. By building on NASA’s Video Image Stabilization and Registration (VISAR) technology, the Intergraph Government Solutions has developed its Video Analyst System (VAS) used to help the FBI analyze video footages. Because of NASA’s brilliance, we have simple, affordable, effective and state-of-the art camcorders and CCTV cameras. VAS analysis offers support of full-resolution digital video, frame-by-frame analysis, stabilization and increased visibility of filmed subjects.
Aside from security and law enforcement, this technology has also been adopted for use in military applications such as reconnaissance, mission debriefing, training, weapons deployment and damage assessment.