Nasa inventions we use daily
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nasa inventions we use daily
Surprising things we use every day that came from the Space Program
Kella Randolph, M. Ed.
New since the space program began:
• What follows is a random assortment of just a few commonplace
things that we see in our modern society. What these things have in
common is that they were all either invented for the space program,
modified from something that was used in the space program, or
made better in some way using space program technology.
Top NASA Inventions
• The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S.
government agency that runs the country's civilian space program, has
accomplished some truly amazing feats since its inception in 1958 --
from beating the Soviet Union in the race to put astronauts on the
moon, to exploring the surface of Mars with unmanned robotic
vehicles. So you're probably not surprised to hear that NASA employs
a pretty awesome brain trust of scientific and engineering talent in a
wide array of fields, from astronomy and physics to chemistry, biology
and materials science.
• NASA has invented all sorts of technology to solve the peculiar
problems of space exploration. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it created
the revolutionary three-axis stabilization control design that enables
satellites to point their antennas, instruments and solar panels with
precision. Since then, it's been such a prolific problem solver that
about one in every 1,000 U.S. patents is granted to someone working
on a NASA project [source: Rayl].
• In fact, the NASA workforce is so ingenious that quite a few of its
inventions are useful for those of us who stay on the ground. The
agency even has a special administrative branch, the Technology
Utilization Program, which focuses on helping companies turn the
ideas behind space gadgetry into industrial and consumer innovations.
• The spaceship isn't NASA's only great invention.
Realizing that a 239,000-mile extension cord
would be impractical, NASA teamed up with
Black & Decker to develop tools that featured
rechargeable batteries and special low-
power consumption motors, which should
make your DustBuster seem a lot more
Handymen of the world, rejoice. NASA's
Apollo mission led Black & Decker to refine
their cordless power tools. Image Credit:
Tetra Images/Getty Images
In the 1970s, NASA partnered with
Honeywell Corp. to create a device that
would detect smoke and toxic gases in
Skylab, America's first space station. The
result was the first ionization smoke detector,
using a minute amount of the radioactive
This led to the 1979 introduction of
inexpensive photoelectric detection devices,
which go off when smoke (or sometimes a
hot, steamy shower) blocks the light beam.
To date, smoke detectors have saved
countless lives here on Earth, but they're
especially useful in space, where running
outside to wait for the fire truck isn't an
• NASA and Honeywell Corporation developed a smoke detector for the first U.S. space station, Skylab.
Image Credit: Steven Puetzer/Getty Images
Enriched baby food
NASA-sponsored research has also helped make
major improvements to commercially available
baby food, and we're not talking about freeze-dried
While testing the potential of algae as a food
supply for long-duration space travel, a Maryland-
based biosciences company discovered an algae
additive that contains two fatty acids closely
resembling those found in human breast milk.
The company now uses it to make an enriched
infant formula called Formulaid, thought to be
essential for babies' visual and mental
Space Research Fortifies Nutrition Worldwide
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Shown here is the Skylab food heating and serving
tray with food, drink, and utensils. This represented
a great improvement over the food served on
earlier space flights.
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• Federal Aviation Administration
When you buy a new set of tires, the old ones
have to go somewhere, right? Most of them end
up in huge, flammable tire dumps, which may
hold millions of old tires, each one containing
about a quart of oil in the rubber. If a dump
catches fire, however, it can burn with a thick,
toxic smoke for weeks on end.
But today, old tires are being put to good use.
NASA's experience in fuel-related cryogenics
helped develop processes to freeze the tires to
below -200 degrees Fahrenheit so that they
crumble, separating the rubber from other
materials and producing what's called "crumb."
This waste is recycled into several new products,
including an ingredient used to pave highways,
which means your new radial tires may
someday be rolling over your old ones.
The Diatek Corp. of California wanted a safer
way to take a person's temperature, and who
better to turn to than NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, the place with over 30 years of
experience using infrared sensors to
remotely observe celestial bodies?
Together, they developed a fast and accurate
thermometer that, when its disposable
probe cover (to prevent cross-infection) is
inserted into the ear canal, detects infrared
radiation from the eardrum and gives a
digital readout in less than two seconds.
Aural thermometers use an infrared sensor
to measure the temperature of energy
radiating from your ear drum. Image Credit:
Eric Audras/Getty Images
Many orthodontists now use ceramic braces
that are bonded to the teeth and strung
together with a thin, light wire made of
NiTinol (nickel-titanium), an alloy brought to
you compliments of NASA.
Because of its amazing ability to maintain its
original shape, NiTi (as it's known in the
industry) provides space satellites with the
ability to spring open after being cramped
and contorted inside a rocket.
But don't think its capabilities are limited to
space. When used in dental appliances, NiTi
exerts a continuous force against the teeth to
move in the right direction, eliminating the
need for wire tightening, thus reducing a
patient's overall time in braces ... and much
of the pain.
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• NASA - Protective Paint Tested on Space Station Makes for 'Curious' Ride to Mars
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• Rhino shield ceramic coating uses microsphere nanotechnology originally developed by NASA to create
particles that are tiny, rigid, ceramic globules
What do the Statue of Liberty, a gigantic
Buddha in Hong Kong and the Golden Gate
Bridge all have in common? They're
protected by the American space program ...
In the late 1980s, NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center began a research program to
develop coatings for the Kennedy Space
Center in Florida to shield the launch
structures from salt-air corrosion, rocket
exhaust and thermal stress.
Applications of this material proved ideal for
protecting structures like bridges, antenna
towers and the occasional big Buddha.
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• Most pacemakers have only one or two wires that go to the heart. These wires stimulate the right or
left side of the heart when the heartbeat gets too slow.
Pacemakers have come a long way since their
invention in 1950. Far from the large, external
contraptions used early on, modern pacemakers
can self-adjust in most cases and even activate
themselves when needed.
But one of the most significant advances in
pacemaker technology came in the 1970s, with
the help of a NASA-developed system of
communication called bi-directional telemetry,
originally used to communicate with satellites.
Siemens-Pacesetter, Inc. teamed with NASA to
develop a similar telemetry system, which not
only allows doctors to make changes to the
unit's function over time, but also updates them
on how the device is interacting with the patient
-- all without picking up a scalpel.
Thanks to NASA technology, plastic lenses for
glasses last up to 10 times longer than they
used to. That's because its Ames Research
Center created a scratch-resistant (read:
extremely hard) coating to protect
equipment from getting beaten up by space
Later, the Foster Grant Corp. acquired the
license for the coating method and used it in
their plastic sunglasses, which matched the
hardness of glass lenses, but were much
lighter. Among other uses, it's now employed
in most eyewear and industrial face shields.
Comfy sneaker insoles
• Space boot technology in athletic shoes is meant to put more spring in your step. Image Credit: Dirk
In the 1970s, many shoe manufacturers
began replacing their standard foam rubber
insoles with a new, highly shock-absorbent
material -- one giant step for tennis shoes.
The new kicks were padded with
"viscoelastic" bubbles that conformed to
your foot and then returned to their normal
shape when you took the shoes off. Turns
out, they got the idea (and the technology)
from NASA, which had developed the
material to better cushion astronauts during
• NASA ¬helps some people sleep better at night. Temper foam found in
Tempurpedic brand mattresses and similar brands was originally
developed for space flight and later repackaged for the home.
• The open cell polyurethane-silicon plastic was created for use in NASA
aircraft seats to lessen impact during landings. The plastic has a unique
property that allows it to evenly distribute the weight and pressure on top
of it, which provides shock absorbency. Even after being compressed to 10
percent of its size, the memory foam will return to its original shape
[source: Space Technology Hall of Fame]. Some private and commercial
planes now feature the foam in seats as well.
• But the uses of the plastic foam extend beyond the skies. Its weight
distribution and temperature sensitivity play important roles for severely
disabled or bedridden people. Doctors can customize the foam to support
patients while reducing the pressure on certain parts of the body to ward
off bedsores, for instance. Some companies also have integrated temper
foam into prosthetic limbs because it has the same look and feel of skin
and decreases the friction between the prosthetic and joints.
• Other commercial uses include padding for motorcycle seats, custom body
molds for dressmaking and protection for racecar drivers.
Memory foam is an open cell foam that
compresses fully and reverts to its original
form. Image Credit: Dr. Dennis Kunkel/Getty
The ability to carry on long-distance telephone
conversations did ¬not happen overnight. It
doesn't link back to one specific NASA invention
-- improved telecommunication took place over
decades of work.
Before humans were sent into space, NASA built
satellites that could communicate with people
on the ground about what outer space was like.
Using similar satellite technology, around 200
communication satellites orbit the globe each
day. These satellites send and receive messages
that allow us to call our friends in Beijing when
we're in Boston. NASA monitors the locations
and health of many of these satellites to ensure
that we can continue to talk to people around
the corner or overseas.
Safety Grooving • Carving a groove into concrete may not sound like much of an innovation, but it certainly
keeps us safe on the roads. Also called safety grooving, this simple, yet lifesaving, process
inserts long, shallow channels into pavement on runways and roads. These indentions in the
concrete divert excess water from the surface to reduce the amount of water between tires
and the runway or road. This increases the friction between wheels and concrete, improving
• Safety grooving was first experimented with at NASA's Langely Research Center in the 1960s
as a way to improve safety for aircraft taking off on wet runways. Once people realized how
well it worked, transportation engineers began applying the same techniques to highways.
According to NASA, safety grooving has reduced highway accidents by 85 percent [source:
NASA]. Cars hydroplane when water between tires and the road actually separates the two
from each other.
• You can find other examples of safety grooving at pedestrian crosswalks, around swimming
pools and in animal pens. This innovation has generated an entire industry, represented by
the International Grooving & Grinding Association [source: NASA Science and Technical
Safety grooves provide safety on airport
runways by increasing the friction between
the concrete and airplane tires. Image Credit:
Andrew Holt/Getty Images
• Water is the essential ingredient to human survival. Since
people cannot live without water, the ability to convert
contaminated water to pure water is an incredibly important
• Astronauts needed a way to cleanse water they take up into
space, since bacteria and sickness would be highly
problematic. Water filter technology had existed since the
early 1950s, but NASA wanted to know how to clean water in
more extreme situations and keep it clean for longer periods
• If you look at a water filter, you can usually detect small
chunks of charcoal inside of them. Sometimes, when you first
use a water filter, you'll even notice tiny black flecks from
those chunks. This charcoal is specially activated and contains
silver ions that neutralize pathogens in the water. Along with
killing bacteria in the water, the filters also prevent further
bacterial growth. Companies have borrowed from this same
technology to bring us the water filter systems millions of
people use at home every day.
• Tap water filters trickled down from NASA's need to cleanse
water on long space flights. Image Credit: Dorling
• Smith, John. "Space Age inventions you probably use." CNN. Oct.
• Space Technology Hall of Fame. The Space Foundation. (May 7,
• NASA Scientific and Technical Information. "Spinoff Database."
(May 7, 2008)http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto
• NASA. "NASA Hits: How NASA Improves Our Quality of Life."
Before 1971, the average weight of breathing
apparatus was more than 30 pounds. Carrying
the extra weight was so physically grueling that
some firefighters opted to attack flames without
any equipment. However, engineers at NASA
adapted the life-support systems used in
spacesuits for use by emergency services. Four
years later, experts had designed apparatus that
weighed a third less and offered better fit and
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CAS Clean Air System Saves Even The Future Life
Of The Firefighters
Blankets for marathon
In 1964, Nasa developed a material capable of
reflecting heat very effectively – a thin sheet of
plastic coated with a metallic reflecting agent,
usually gold or silver in color. Used as a blanket,
it reflects about 80 per cent of the wearer’s
body-heat back to them. It’s used to keep
accident victims warm, and by marathon
runners after the finish.
Reflecting on Space Benefits: A Shining Example
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Marathon runners draped in reflective blankets
to keep them warm
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• Pill transmitters swallowed by astronauts to check their temperature and blood
Pill transmitters swallowed by astronauts to check their
temperature and blood pressure are undergoing trials to be
used as a way to monitor the health of fetuses in the womb.
These pill-shaped gadgets can be used to monitor body
temperature, pressure and other vital signs.
By swallowing a thermometer the size of a vitamin pill,
patients can transmit their internal temperature data to a
recorder for analysis. Technology developed by NASA to
monitor astronaut health was used by a private laboratory
to create the wireless, probe-less micro-transmitter. Today,
hospitalized intensive-care patients, free-moving
outpatients, the aging and those with sports injuries and
sleep disorders all reap the benefits of this non-intrusive
Faster racing cars
• Larry Smithmier and his son, Schroeder, doing a pit stop challenge at "Rockets to Racecars."
• Aiden Gibson and Theresa McKenzie get a close-up look at a space shuttle tire. Credit: NASA
Carbon fiber was invented by the British in
the 1960s (at the Royal Aircraft
Establishment, Farnborough), but was given
a boost by its use in space flight. Carbon-
fiber-reinforced graphite is used in the nose
cone of the Space Shuttle. Strong, light and
heat resistant, it is found in everything from
tennis rackets to Formula One racing cars.
The roof of the
A flexible yet durable Teflon-coated fiberglass
material was developed in the 1970s for use
on astronauts’ spacesuits. Teflon-coated
fiberglass is now used for the roofs of many
buildings worldwide, including the Dome in
It may seem strange, but the green
movement owes a debt of gratitude to the
rockets that blasted off into space. Efficient
solar-power technologies – in which silicon
crystals grown in a laboratory convert light
into electrical energy – were first developed
by NASA in the early 1980s. The same
technology is now widely used by companies
manufacturing solar panels.
• These two large solar panels give the MESSENGER spacecraft its power.
• Image Credit: NASA
Nasa developed freeze-drying technology for
the food carried by the Apollo missions. After
the process, the product retains 98 per cent
of its nutritional value and weighs just 20 per
cent of its original weight. Snacks based on
this technology are exported by NASA to
many countries, with sales running to several
million pounds a year.
A rescue tool used by fire departments
across America uses battery technology first
employed by NASA. The cutting technology –
used to free accident victims from wreckage
– employs a miniature version of the power
cartridges first used on the Space Shuttle and
is 50 per cent lighter (and 70 per cent
cheaper) than previous rescue equipment.
The cutters work more quickly than
conventional ones and were used in the
aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma Federal
On 10 July 1962, a television transmission
showed the American flag fluttering outside
a communications center in Andover, Maine.
It was made possible after NASA launched its
Telstar satellite, the world’s first active
communications satellite, at 4.35 that
• These days we can control the key functions of a
smartphone, TV or even automobile by voice.
Clearly, voice control is a cool feature that will soon
be commonplace on a broad range of consumer
• For disabled people, however, assistive
technologies like voice control are not just cool but
an essential way to help make their lives better.
• Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology argue that voice control could improve
the independence, quality of life and safety of tens
of thousands of wheelchair users.
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(Not on the market at this time)
We've seen brain-controlled wheelchairs in the
past, but we've never seen them in action. This
one, developed and built at the University of
Zaragoza in Spain, uses an EEG cap worn on the
head, using a P300 neurophysiological protocol and
automated navigation. The user sees a real-time
visualization of his surroundings on the screen in
front of him, and then concentrates on the space
which he wants to navigate to. The EEG detects the
location, which is then transmitted to the
autonomous navigation system, which then drives
the chair to the desired location, avoiding any
obstacles that might be in the way. Once the
location has been chosen, the user can sit back and
relax while the chair does all the work, making the
use of the system far less mentally exhausting than
some previous iterations which demand constant
concentration on the target. Although there is no
information about commercial availability of the
wheelchair, it has been successfully tested by five
different participants in a study.
Mind-controlled wheelchair prototype is truly,
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Home blood pressure
When Alan Shepard became the first
American to fly in space some years ago,
Nasa scientists had to invent an automatic
measuring device to find out how blasting off
affected the astronaut’s blood pressure.
Blood-pressure kits based on this design
subsequently went mainstream.
• Robonaut is a humanoid robot being developed to function as an astronaut assistant. The
dexterous manipulation technology in its hands might one day be used in applications such
as human prosthetic development.
NASA’s continued funding, coupled with its
collective innovations in robotics and shock-
absorption/comfort materials are inspiring and
enabling the private sector to create new and
better solutions for animal and human
prostheses. Advancements such as
Environmental Robots Inc.’s development of
artificial muscle systems with robotic sensing
and actuation capabilities for use in NASA space
robotic and extravehicular activities are being
adapted to create more functionally dynamic
artificial limbs (Spinoff 2004). Additionally, other
private-sector adaptations of NASA’s temper
foam technology have brought about custom-
moldable materials offering the natural look and
feel of flesh, as well as preventing friction
between the skin and the prosthesis, and
heat/moisture buildup. (Spinoff 2005
• In the late 1970s, Adam Kissiah Jr., a hearing-impaired engineer working
on the space shuttle program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, knew all
too well the shortcomings of conventional analog hearing aids. They
simply amplified sound entering the ear without clarifying it. In an effort
to solve the problem, he put to use his knowledge of NASA's advances in
electronic sensing systems, telemetry, and sound and vibration sensors.
He came up with the concept for a new type of hearing aid -- an implant
that would produce digital pulses to stimulate the auditory nerve endings,
which then would transmit the signals to the brain.
• Kissiah went on to work with BioStim, a private company, to develop the
new device. Kissiah's patented concepts were built upon by other
manufacturers [source: Space Foundation]. Since then, according to the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 219,000 patients have received
cochlear implants [source: NIDCD]. The devices enable people who've
been deaf since birth to hear for the first time. They've also restored
hearing for those who still have a responsive auditory nerve but who've
lost hearing due to trauma or disease [source: Space Foundation].
• This application of space technology has made an enormous difference in
the lives of people like Mike Scheerer, a Peoria, Ill., man in his late 50s,
who received a cochlear implant in 2009 and heard songbirds singing in
the trees in his neighborhood. "I would say that's the most beautiful thing
I ever heard," he told the Peoria Star newspaper. "I had never heard birds
before, that I can remember" [source: Davis].
Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don't
• Since the mid-1960s, scientists in the image processing lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) have been working to improve video imaging software, so that
astronomers can turn space probe data into increasingly vivid, high-resolution images
of distant planets and other celestial objects.
• In recent years, medical researchers have applied some of NASA's software
innovations to peer not into the sky but into patients' circulatory systems for signs of
atherosclerosis, a common disease in which fatty material builds up inside arteries
and threatens to cause heart attacks and strokes.
• The California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL for NASA, licensed the
technology to a private company, Medical Technologies International Inc. (MTI),
whose chief engineer, Robert Seltzer, was a veteran JPL researcher. The result was
ArterioVision software. It can be used with ultrasound equipment to perform a
noninvasive examination of a patient's carotid artery, which carries blood to the
• Paired with ultrasound technologies, ArterioVision can detect signs of cardiovascular
illness at very early stages, when it would otherwise evade detection by conventional
tests. As a result, medical experts say that more patients may have a chance to curb
the disease with dietary and lifestyle changes, rather than medication or surgery
down the line [source: NASA]. Doctors' offices in all 50 U.S. states offer ArterioVision
testing [source: Lockney].This next NASA invention has expanded lifestyle options for
hearing-impaired individuals worldwide.
ArterioVision pairs ultrasound equipment like this
with NASA's software genius.
These are only a few of the incredible new things that have come to
us because of research and development in the NASA Space
• Check back in ten years and see what has been developed.