Have you ever wondered how space exploration can impact your daily life? Many of the products in your home exist on account of the advancements made through NASA technology and research. These are inventions that highlight how space exploration spreads through our lives in a positive way, enhancing our well-being and daily activities.
NASA’s main objective has always been to explore and better understand the cosmos, but a large amount of the technology that has been developed by NASA for space exploration has been introduced and utilized here on Earth, benefiting the public in a multitude of ways. We come in contact with these products everyday, products that you probably didn’t know were created and/or influenced by NASA’s research and development.
It’s no secret that a number of countries have invested a good portion of tax payers’ money into space programs, leaving some people questioning whether their money could be spent in better areas instead of investing in space exploration… But the fact is, there have been many inventions developed by NASA that we use every day, inventions that improve our quality of life here on Earth, and technologies that have awakened our economy. NASA has over 6,300 patents to its name, and here are just 20 that you may or may not know were invented by NASA:
20. Super Soaker
Lonnie G. Johnson, the NASA engineer whose work helped send astronauts on space missions and develop the stealth bomber program also invented the Super Soaker. It was introduced in 1989, and had the ability to shoot water faster and further, allowing you to drench your enemies more efficiently compared to previous squirt guns on the market. Ever since the Super Soaker was first introduced, it has been named as one of the world’s top 20 best-selling items to ever hit the toy industry.
19. Memory Foam
It’s true, NASA does indeed help some of us sleep better at night. Temper foam, which is found in tempurpedic mattresses, was initially designed for space flight. The open cell polyurethane-silicon was designed for NASA aircraft seats to minimize the impact during landings for astronauts. Memory foam has a unique component that enables it to distribute pressure evenly on its surface, which provides absorbency, allowing it to return back to its original form. Some commercial planes now feature them in their seats as well. The uses of the temper foam invention goes well beyond the skies. It’s commonly used by doctors to support patients while reducing pressure on certain body parts. Some prosthetic companies also incorporate temper foam into prosthetic limbs mainly because it has the same look and feel of skin, and decreases friction.
Back in the day when NASA was looking for ways to make sure the Apollo spacecraft and space suits were livable, they began experimenting with insulation. Between the brutal changes in temperature generated upon re-entry, this alone would prove deadly if the astronauts weren’t protected accordingly. One invention that came forth from the need of durable insulation was the radiant heat shield.
Modifications of insulation have resulted in spin-off products that are used in a variety of different forms, the most popular and most frequently used form of insulation being found in construction. Quite a few of the commercial and residential buildings built over the last two decades use insulation developed following NASA’s lead.
17. Ribbed Swimsuits
NASA invented the “riblet” which is a small groove almost unnoticeable to the naked eye, about the size of a scratch. These small grooves are normally used on the surface of airplanes, in pipes to reduce friction and on yachts for racing. But for a short period of time, NASA teamed up with Speedo and designed a competitive swimsuit using these riblets. Studies showed that the ribbed swimsuit was 10 to 15 percent faster than any other swimsuit out there, allowing the swimmer to glide more easily and efficiently through the water, but the riblet swimsuit was banned from competition after the 2008 Beijing games.
16. Portable Cordless Vacuum
When you’re cleaning around your house with the handheld vacuum, you are using the very technology that astronauts used on the moon. For example, during the Apollo space mission, NASA required a portable, self-contained drill that was able to cut core samples from below the surface.
Black and Decker had already invented the very first battery powered tools in 1961, but it was NASA-related research that helped advance the technology that led to light handheld vacuum cleaners, cordless medical instruments, and many other tools we use every day.
15. Water Filters
We all know that water is a fundamental ingredient to our survival. Since we cannot live without water, the capability to convert contaminated water into pure water was an astonishing and valuable achievement. Water filter technology has actually been around since the 1950s, but NASA needed to know how to clean water effectively and to keep it clean for extended periods of time, the reason being that astronauts required a way to cleanse the water they took with them to space because sickness as a result of bacteria would obviously be a massive problem. Companies have borrowed NASA’s exact technology over the years, bringing us the various water filter systems millions of us use in our homes every day.
14. Invisible Braces
Some of the things we regularly use came from the most unusual beginnings. A company called Ceradyne, along with NASA ‘s Advanced Ceramics Research program, helped develop invisible braces. As a result of this invention, wearing braces is now much less embarrassing.
The technology used to track heat-seeking missiles has been used to develop these invisible braces. Don’t worry, braces aren’t really made from the components of missiles, but rather transparent polycrystaline alumina (TPA), which was originally created for missile work.
The advantages of invisible braces are that they are stronger than steel, their smooth and round exterior prevents breakage and their light absorbing properties make them translucent.
13. Scratch Resistant Lenses
Chances are if you drop your eyeglasses on the ground, the lenses probably won’t break, and that’s because since 1972 the FDA required manufacturers to use plastic instead of glass to make lenses.
The reason behind this change was based on three factors: plastic is cheaper to use than glass, it’s lighter and not prone to shattering, and plastic is better at absorbing ultraviolet radiation compared to glass. However, using plastic instead of glass has a huge disadvantage – it scratches easily, and speaking from experience, having a scuffed lens is not just irritating but it can also slightly impair your eyesight. But once again, thanks to NASA and their research, we have scratch-resistant lenses now.
On account of dirt and particles found in space environments, NASA required a special coating to protect their equipment, especially astronaut helmet visors. Soon the Foster-Grant sunglasses company teamed up with NASA to create a unique plastic coating which made its sunglasses ten times more scratch-resistant than non-coated plastics.
12. Freeze Drying
Like many activities in space, eating requires meticulous care and consideration. While orbiting around Earth, astronauts live and work in microgravity, which means dry foods, condiments and powders float and if not properly contained, can very well contaminate the environment surrounding them. This is why freeze drying is essential.
Before the Apollo missions even began, NASA did extensive research on space food to prepare for the upcoming missions. They formed alliances with Nestle and came up with freeze drying- the process that involves food dehydration in order to make the transportation of different types of food more convenient. Basically, the specified food is flash frozen, and vacuum packed with most of the food’s moisture evaporated before packaging. When the food is ready to be consumed, water is added and it regains its original flavor, texture and appearance.
11. Workout Machines
Workout machines were originally invented by NASA so astronauts could use them regularly while in space. Every NASA astronaut faces weightlessness while they are in space. One of the long-term effects of extended periods of time in zero gravity is that it weakens the body, causing bones to decrease in density and muscles to break down. For those reasons alone, astronauts have to train extensively during their time in space to keep their bodies from degenerating.
10. Insulin Pumps
Thanks to researchers working on the Mars Viking spacecraft, NASA has made the treatment of diabetes more manageable. At the time, the thought of traveling farther into space also posed challenges in monitoring an astronaut’s overall health. NASA researchers needed to discover new ways that would allow them to see the vital signs of the astronauts from greater distances. Medical experts at the Goddard Space Flight Center invented a device that could monitor a person’s blood sugar levels and send signals that would release insulin into their body when needed. This invention, known today as the insulin pump, has helped monitor the levels of people with diabetes since the late ’80s.
9. Infrared Ear Thermometers
In the past, taking your temperature while sick was somewhat of a daunting task. Until 1991 temperatures were typically taken by standard mercury thermometers which were difficult to read, or the dreaded rectal ones which are just plain uncomfortable. Diatek, the company that developed these thermometers, took advantage of NASA’s previous progress when it came to measuring the temperature of stars using infrared technology. Together with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Diatek invented an infrared sensor, serving as a thermometer, one you place in your ears, simplifying and speeding up the process which provides accurate readings in less than two seconds.
NASA may not have invented MRI technology, but it has contributed to a great deal of its advances throughout the years. In the mid 1960s, after the Apollo Lunar Landing Program, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) designed the technology now known as digital image processing (DPI), which allowed computer enhancement of pictures of the Moon. Digital image processing has a vast collection of functions, mainly in medicine, where it is used to enhance images of the human body for diagnostic reasons. Two of these body image techniques are CatScans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
7. Better Software
Google and NASA have been working together for quite some time now on different projects stemming from 3-D mapping of Mars and the Moon, real time tracking of the (ISS) and real-time weather visualization and forecasting. Recently, the two organizations have been collaborating on ways to solve a variety of challenging technical problems that range from data management and human-computer interfacing to enormous distributed computing, with the same goal in mind – to make the already colossal amount of data more usable and accessible. NASA funds and partners with different companies when it comes to software advancement, improving different areas like simulation training, photo enhancement, and virtual reality.
6. Aircraft Anti-Icing System
KATS (Kelly Aerospace Therma Systems) joined NASA to develop the integration of a thermoelectric de-icing system called Thermawing, which is a DC powered air conditioner designed for single-engine aircrafts. The system uses a flexible, electrically conductive, graphite foil attached to a wing’s leading edge. Once activated the foil heats quickly, melting and then shedding any ice so the plane can fly safely.
5. Cochlear Implants
Cochlear implants were invented in the late 1970s by Adam Kissiah Jr. a NASA engineer working on the space shuttle program. All though he had no medical background, he decided to use all of his knowledge of NASA’s growth in the area of telemetry, electronic sensing systems and sound and vibration sensors in hopes of creating a better hearing device. He then came up with the idea for a modernized hearing aid, an implant that would bring forth digital pulses to stimulate the auditory nerve endings, transmitting the signals to the brain.
4. Land Mine Removal
NASA teamed up with Thiokol Propulsion to produce a flare that safely destroys land mines using NASA’s surplus rocket fuel. The Demining Device flare was designed through Thiokol’s ability to access materials needed to develop the flare along with NASA’s ability to reduce propellant waste without impacting the environment in a negative way. The Demining Device flare uses a battery-triggered electric match that ignites and neutralizes land mines in the field without any detonation. It uses solid rocket fuel, which burns a hole into the mine’s case and burns away all the explosive contents, allowing the mine to be disarmed without causing any hazard.
3. Solar Energy
NASA formed a 28-member union called the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology, with the goal of building a remotely piloted aircraft to fly unmanned at high altitudes for days on end, which would require advanced solar power sources, ones that wouldn’t add additional weight to the aircraft. As a result, single-crystal silicon solar cells were designed and are now available at a relatively low cost. The technology of these solar devices provide up to 50% more power than traditional solar cells. Because of this invention, millions of homes now have crystal silicon power, reducing conventional energy expenses and considerably decreasing pollution.
2. Smoke Detectors
Okay, so NASA didn’t really invent the first smoke detector, but in the 1970s they did develop a newer version with the collaboration of Honeywell Corporation. At that time, their version became the most practical smoke detector ever invented. The modernized detector was equipped with a self-charging nickel cadmium battery.
The first U.S. Space station was the Skylab, and the astronauts on board needed to be instantly alerted in case of fire or noxious gasses. NASA’s modification of the smoke detector had an adjustable sensitivity, which was a phenomenal asset when it came to preventing false alarms.
1. Artificial Limbs
One of the most inspiring inventions that NASA is associated with is definitely the modification of artificial limbs. Their continued funding in this field has led to the discovery of shock-absorption/comfort materials, allowing them to create new and improved solutions for both animal and human prostheses. The ongoing development of higher quality and more functional and dynamic artificial limbs are the result of Environmental Robots Inc’s advancement of artificial muscle and the use of NASA’s space robotics and extravehicular activities.