President Eisenhower signed the Space Act in 1958 officially creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA for short. Since its creation, it has done much more for us than just space exploration. A provision was included in the act which stipulates that the research and advancements discovered by NASA should benefit all of us.
In those 60 years, NASA has certainly fulfilled that role.
Partnered with various research companies, NASA’s innovation, technology and spinoffs continue to enrich our daily lives and even save lives.
Since 1976, NASA has published a list of every commercialized technology and product linked to its research in a journal called ‘Spinoff‘. Here is a list of the top 10 you might use in everyday life, or that may even have saved your life:
Top 10 NASA Spinoffs
#10. Satellite Television
Without the technology pioneered by NASA they used to fix errors in spacecraft signals, we would be unable to reduce and correct scrambled pictures and sound in satellite television signals.
#9. Memory Foam
Memory foam, also known as temper foam, was developed under a NASA contract in the 1970s that set out to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers. Memory foam has widespread commercial applications, in addition to the popular mattresses and pillows.
#8. Ear Thermometer
Diatek Corporation and NASA developed an aural thermometer. It uses infrared astronomy technology to measure the amount of energy emitted by the eardrum, the same way the temperature of stars and planets is measured. This permits quick temperature measurement of newborn or incapacitated patients.
#7. Invisible Braces
Invisible braces are made of translucent polycrystalline alumina. A company called Ceradyne developed TPA in conjunction with NASA Advanced Ceramics Research to protect the infrared antennae of heat-seeking missile trackers. Another company, Unitek, was working on a new design for dental braces. They discovered that TPA would be strong enough to withstand use and is translucent, making it a prime material for invisible braces.
#6. Scratch Resistant Lenses
Scratch-resistant lenses were developed by NASA by applying a diamond-like lubricating coat over plastic lenses. This application was originally used in the space program in a “dual ion-beam bonding process” to protect astronaut’s visors. Today, the coating is still used on hard resin plastic used in most eye glasses that people wear everyday.
#5. Modern Insulation
Thanks to developing special vacuum metalizing techniques, NASA was able to create insulating barriers made of metalized foil laid over a core of propylene or Mylar, which protected astronauts and their spacecraft’s delicate instruments from radiation and heat. This is now found in common home insulation.
#4. Cordless Tools
While the first was invented by Black & Decker in 1961, in 1963 Martin Marietta Corporation contracted with Black & Decker to design tools for NASA. As a result of this work, Black & Decker created several spinoffs, including cordless lightweight battery powered precision medical instruments and a cordless miniature vacuum cleaner called the Dustbuster. This research paved the way for our current cordless tools.
#3. Water Filters/Purification
Since bacteria and sickness would be highly problematic, astronauts needed a way to cleanse the water taken up into space. Water filter technology had existed since the 1950s, but NASA wanted to know how to clean water in more extreme situations and keep it clean for longer periods of time. The technique of activated carbon filters and silver ions to clean water pioneered by NASA is in most home water filters we use today.
#2. Adjustable Smoke Detectors
Teaming up with Honeywell Corporation, NASA invented the first adjustable smoke detector with different sensitivity levels to prevent false alarms. They use a radioactive element called americium-241 to spot smoke or harmful gasses. When clean air particles of oxygen and nitrogen move through smoke detectors, the americium-241 ionizes them, which creates an electrical current. If foreign smoke particles enter the smoke detector, it disrupts that interaction, triggering the alarm.
#1. CAT Scanners
When NASA engineers faced the difficulty of locating a safe landing spot amidst the dust fields of the moon, they developed a scanning system using high-frequency sound waves, magnets, and computers. This new scanning technology translated into ultrasounds, MRI machines, and CAT-scans widely used by doctors today.
Bonus Fact: Tang was not invented by NASA as the popular mythos goes. General Foods developed Tang in 1957, and it has been on supermarket shelves since 1959 – long before the US sent its first astronaut into space.