Despite weather delays, NASA is making itself a hot topic with the groundbreaking launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon — the first American foray into space since the space shuttle’s final flight nine years ago. The launch is all part of a Boeing-NASA project that will end U.S. reliance on Russian spacecraft, and hopefully add new crew members to the International Space Station.
But NASA has been influencing Americans’ lives over the past nine years; even in the absence of space missions. There are numerous products, technologies and other things NASA invented that we use every day, from baby formula to tires.
Check out the everyday products invented by rocket scientists.
Last updated: May 28, 2020
Memory Foam Mattresses
Temper foam, also known as memory foam, was originally created as padding to improve crash protection for airline passengers, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program. Now it’s used in everything from mattresses and pillows to amusement park rides and horseback saddles. It’s also used by NASCAR to make race cars safer.
One of NASA’s research centers was working on diamond-hard coatings for aerospace systems and inadvertently came up with the coating that makes lenses scratch-resistant, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Enriched Baby Formula
The nutritional enrichment ingredient found in baby formula was originally the product of NASA-sponsored research that tested the potential use of algae as a recycling agent for long-duration space travel, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program. The microalgae substance is now found in over 90% of infant formulas sold in the U.S.
Black & Decker was tasked with coming up with a portable, self-contained drill capable of extracting samples from below the moon’s surface for the Apollo and Gemini space missions. The company developed a computer program to optimize the drill’s motor and minimize power consumption, and that program was spun off to create the Dustbuster, the original cordless miniature vacuum cleaner, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
In the 1990s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists created a camera small enough to fit on a spacecraft without sacrificing the quality. The technology they developed is now used in a third of all cameras, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The GRiD Compass is the world’s first laptop computer, and it was first used on a space shuttle mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center in 1983, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This is one of the NASA inventions we use pretty much daily.
Nike Air Sneakers
The technology used in Nike Air sneakers was originally developed for space suits, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Former NASA engineer M. Frank Rudy patented his “blow rubber molding” technology, which Nike used to allow runners to “run on air,” Gizmodo reported.
You have NASA to thank for freeze-dried snacks. Freeze drying technology was developed by NASA to make snacks more portable for long Apollo missions, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program. Using this process, food is cooked, frozen and then slowly heated in a vacuum chamber to remove the ice crystals. The result is food that maintains 98% of its nutritional value, with only 20% of its original weight.
If you’ve ever seen marathon runners at the end of the race, you might have noticed that many wrap themselves in foil blankets. These blankets are used to regulate body temperature, which usually drops dramatically once they stop running. These blankets are also called space blankets, and not just because they look futuristic. Foil blankets evolved from a lightweight insulator developed by NASA to protect spacecrafts and astronauts from extreme dips in temperature, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Although astronauts want beautiful smiles just like the rest of us, the technology used for invisible braces wasn’t created for that purpose. Invisible braces are made using transparent polycrystalline alumina, which was originally developed by NASA to track heat-seeking missiles, according to NASA.
High-Power Solar Cells
If you live in one of the many American homes outfitted with crystal silicon solar power cells, you have NASA to thank for your lower energy bills. The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Alliance along with SunPower Corporation developed the high-performance, low-cost power cells to be able to power remotely piloted aircraft without adding weight, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
Pool Water Purification Systems
Recreational pools can be a breeding ground for bacteria, but thanks to NASA, there’s a water purification system that keeps them clean. In the 1960s, NASA developed an electrolytic silver iodizer to purify drinking water for astronauts — and it’s now used in pools, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Parents with sick babies and toddlers might rely on ear thermometers to take a temperature reading. These thermometers use infrared anatomy technology that was invented by NASA and Diatek, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The planes we fly on can safely fly through ice encounters thanks to a thermoelectric de-icing system called Thermawing, which was developed by NASA scientists, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
You can still use the GPS on your phone when you don’t have a wireless connection thanks to NASA technology. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed precision GPS with data streamed from its global network of GPS receivers, which is now used by many cellphones, according to NASA.
To combat extremely cold space temperatures, NASA created insulation made from aluminized polyester called Radiant Barrier. It’s now used in most home insulation, according to Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Kennedy Space Center engineer Adam Kisseh was hearing impaired and was unsatisfied with the hearing aids currently available. So he used his experience working on the Space Shuttle Program’s electronic, sound and vibrator sensor systems to develop early cochlear implant technology, which uses electrical impulses rather than sound amplification, according to NASA.
NASA developed wireless headsets to allow astronauts to communicate hands-free and without wires, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now they help non-astronauts jam out wirelessly.
Many of us drive on highways every day to get to work, and we can take for granted the safety grooving in the concrete that increases traction to reduce accidents and injuries. This grooving technique was developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center to prevent aircraft accidents on wet runways, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
Safe Packaged Food
NASA partnered with Pillsbury to create a new systemic approach to quality control for prepackaged foods. This quality control method was originally intended to ensure the safety of foods for spaceflights, but it’s become an industry standard that helps keep food safe for consumers around the world, according to NASA.
A NASA researcher developed the computer mouse in the 1960s as a way to make computers more interactive by enabling users to manipulate data on the computer screen, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
CAT scans are used every day by people in the medical profession, and we have the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to thank for this technology. The lab originally developed the technology to create advanced digital images for space programs, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Two Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists developed a welding curtain in the 1980s capable of absorbing, filtering and scattering the intense light emitted during welding since it can be harmful to unprotected eyes. They later realized this same technology could be used for sunglasses, and that’s how UV-blocking sunglasses were born, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
Ski boots that flex without significant distortion allow for precision skiing, and the Flexon concept that allows for this is an adaptation of the technology used in spacesuit joints, according to the NASA Spinoff Database.
Since the 1970s, most of the tires on the road are radial tires, which have a layer of tread and a layer of plies. Goodyear created a new, stronger tire material for NASA to use in parachute shrouds to soft-land the Vikings on the Mars surface, and the company later expanded the technology for use in its radial tires for consumers. This new and improved material gives tires a tread life that’s 10,000 miles greater than conventional radial tires, according to the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
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