Many countries put a lot of their money (in billions) into the space programs. The US has been the leader since 1958 – They spend more than $18 billion per year on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Some people question why the United States spends so much money on space programs.
The truth is NASA is doing much more than just studying outer space, since its inception. Today, you use a lot of products in your daily life that you probably didn’t know were the results of NASA research and development. We are highlighting a few amazing NASA inventions that we take for granted every day.
30. Ear Thermometers
Infrared technology is used to measure the temperature of the stars. The same technology is used in the ear thermometers (commonly used in hospitals) that captures our body temperature by detecting the amount of energy given off by the eardrum.
29. Shoe Insoles
In the late 1950s, NASA invented 3D polyurethane foam fabric in boots to lessen the impact by adding spring and ventilation. Now, cushion insoles or the air pocket are found in most athletic shoes.
28. Enriched Baby Food
NASA was experimenting with algae as a food supply for lengthy space trips. Eventually, they came to know that a compound of algae contains two fatty acids similar to those found in human breast milk, which further led to the development of Formulaid (an enriched infant formula).
27. Improved Mine Safety
NASA developed an ultrasonic bolt elongation monitor to test high-pressure loads and tension on bolts and fasteners. A digital adaptation of the same device is being used in various applications such as groundwater analysis, non-destructive evaluation of railroad ties, radiation dosimetry, and medical testing device. The applications continue to expand.
26. Safety Grooving
In order to decrease aircraft accidents on wet runways, NASA came up with safety grooving – the cutting of grooves in concrete. The technique was then expanded to normal roads and highways to reduce the skidding and stopping distance, while also increasing the vehicle’s cornering ability on curves.
25. Fire Resistant Reinforcement
NASA funded Avco Corporation to develop a heat shield for the Apollo mission. The purpose was to dissipate energy during reentry while charring, to form a protective coating in order to block heat penetration. Avco Corporation developed other applications of the heat shield such as foams for aircraft, fire retardant paints and steel coatings devised to build high-rise buildings.
24. Pollution Remediation
Pollution Remediation is microencapsulating technology developed by NASA. It has revolutionized the way oil spills are cleaned. Thousands of microcapsules (tiny balls of beeswax with hollow centers) safely clean petroleum-based pollutants from water. Chemical compounds from crude oil (like petroleum hydrocarbons, fuels) are prevented from settling, limiting damage to ocean beds.
23. Anti-Icing Systems
Researchers at NASA improved the thermaWing, a thermoelectric deicing system that uses electrically conductive, flexible graphite foil attached to a wing’s leading edge. This heated wing technology allows pilots to safely fly the airplane in icy conditions.
22. Remote Controlled Ovens
EWT software was developed by NASA in the late 1990s. The aim was to let International Space Station astronauts control a device remotely over the internet. Later, NASA furnished this technology to TMIO that designed a remote-controlled intelligent oven.
21. Strong Lubricants
NASA developed a solid oil-free lubricant known as PS300. It is able to reduce friction and emission and is capable of operating at high temperature with great reliability and low maintenance. Today, it is widely used in industrial application like electrical turbogenerators, refrigeration compressors, etc.
20. Improved Radial Tires
NASA collaborated with private companies to develop robust tires from fibrous materials. It was intended to be used in soft-lander spacecraft on the Martian surface. Goodyear Tires improved the technology and developed a new radial tire with 16,000 kilometers more life expectancy than traditional tires.
19. Structural Analysis Software
NASA has developed thousands of advanced computer programs to solve structural problems and automate a few of their tasks. The NASA structural analysis software (named NASTRAN) is one of them. It is an extremely sophisticated program, complex analysis of design and predicts how various elements of the design will react in different conditions. The program is utilized to design Cadillacs, roller coasters and other complicated structures.
18. Video Image Stabilization and Registration
NASA came up with a video image stabilization and registration system (VISAR) to help the FBI better investigate low-quality video clips. The technique is typically used for improving dark videos [captured during nighttime by small handheld devices]. The tool is capable of analyzing videos frame-by-frame, converting analog to digital format, and providing stable output without altering the footage.
17. Invisible Braces
Teeth-straightening is less embracing these days and all credit goes to NASA Advanced Ceramics Research. To protect the infrared antenna of heat-seeking missile trackers, they developed invisible (better say translucent) braces in collaboration with Ceradyne. These braces are a type of transparent ceramics called TPA (Translucent Polycrystalline Alumina).
NASA developed a cloud platform (Nebula) to give additional computation and storage resources for its engineers. This code was released as open-source in 2010. NASA made a deal with Rackspace to form the OpenStack project, which is used in the cloud-based product by many companies.
15. Chemical Detection
NASA along with IOS (Intelligent Optical Systems) developed moisture-sensitive and pH-sensitive sensors to detect and analyze corrosive condition in aircraft. The sensor changes color when it comes in contact with the chemical reactions in the aircraft. IOS further developed the sensors for detecting chemical warfare agents and possible threats.
14. Firefighting Equipment
The National Bureau of Standards and NASA developed a lightweight breathing machine, which includes air bottle, harness, and face mask. It is made of aluminum composite – the same material used in rocket casings. The apparatus is now used by firefighters as a protection device against smoke inhalation injury.
13. Scratch-Resistant Lenses
Anybody who wears glasses or ski goggles can associate with this one. NASA needed a special coating to protect its equipment in space from dirt. So they came up with their special plastic coating (astronaut helmet visor coatings) that makes the lenses ten times more scratch-resistant.
12. Cordless Tools
If you have ever used a cordless tool, you have NASA to thank for that. They developed a lightweight and powerful tool (battery operated motor drill) that could drill into the moon’s surface to get rock and soil samples.
11. Memory Foam
Memory Foam is made of polyurethane with additional chemicals to increase its density and viscosity. It was designed for NASA aircraft seats to reduce the impact during landing by absorbing shocks. Now it is helping millions sleep better.
10. Space Blanket
Space Blanket is a lightweight, low-bulk blanket composed of heat-reflective thin plastic sheeting. It is waterproof and windproof and designed to reduce the heat loss in a person’s body. It was first used by NASA in 1964. Also, these blankets are included in many emergencies, survival kits, and first aid.
9. Freeze Drying
Benchtop freeze dryer
NASA did a lot of research on space food before Apollo missions. To keep the food fresh for a long period NASA and Nestle came up with the new concept called freeze-drying. This is the process of dehydration of food in which food is frozen and the surrounding pressure is reduced to allow the frozen water in food to sublimate.
8. Water Filters
NASA pioneered the technology to filter water and kill bacteria. To keep the water clean they invented a filter with activated charcoal that contains ions to neutralize pathogens in water.
The LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology developed by NASA is used to grow plants in space. The same technology led to the development of useful medical devices including WARP 10 (high intensity LED unit). It is intended to provide temporary relief from joint pain, minor muscles, stiffness, as well as increase local blood circulation. Currently, it is being used by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Department of Defense.
6. Smoke Detector
You might have this life-saving device installed in your home and office. Do you know the first adjustable smoke detector was invented by NASA? The aim was to let astronauts know if there is fire or toxic gases in the air.
5. Ventricular Assist Device
Image credit: Stanford Health Care
The Ventricular Assist Device is a pump that is used to support blood flow and heart function of people who have weakened hearts. It is used during or after the heart surgery (when patients wait for the heart transplant surgery or when one not eligible for the surgery). NASA developed this device in collaboration with Dr. George Noon, Dr. Michael DeBakey and MicroMed Technology.
4. LZR Racer Suit
The LZR Racer Suit is advanced swimsuit made of high-tech swimwear fabric composed of polyurethane and woven elastane-nylon. It holds the body in a more hydrodynamic position, allows better oxygen flow to the muscles, and is ultrasonically welded to reduce drag. It was developed by Mectex using NASA fluid flow analysis software and wind tunnel testing facilities.
3. Solar Cells
We all have seen solar cells on top of buildings, houses and even on our calculators. The technique of converting Sun’s energy into power source was started by NASA. They formed a 28 member union called ERAST (Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology) with a goal to develop an unmanned aircraft that could fly at high altitude for days by utilizing solar energy.
2. Artificial Limbs
In order to enhance the artificial muscle systems (to use in space robotics and extravehicular activities), NASA came up with artificial limbs. The technology is now helping hundreds of thousands of physically challenged people live normal lives.
1. Long Distance Telecommunication
Before humans were sent into space, NASA developed and launched few satellites into Earth’s orbit to monitor space, spy on research and communicate with scientists on the ground. This technology was adapted to over two hundred satellites that connect all of us every day.