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Four Everyday Things NASA Invented

March 28, 2018

You may never have set foot in space, but you probably come in contact with a lot of NASA technology in your everyday life. This is thanks to spin-off technology that were initially developed for NASA missions, but were so brilliant, that they became available to regular folks like you and me. NASA has over six thousand patents to its name, and almost two thousand of those have spun off to be something you could find from your toolbox to your medicine cabinet.

 

Here are just four of the more common things that you probably take for granted, but in fact literally took rocket scientists to invent.

 

1. CORDLESS TOOLS

 

 

From blowdryers to drills to garden clippers, the first battery-powered handheld tool was a simple drill powered by nickel-cadmium cells, invented by Black and Decker in 1961. But it wasn't until the Apollo moon mission that the technology was really perfected. Astronauts needed a lightweight drill to extract rock samples from the moon, but there aren't exactly power outlets up in space, and it's hard to imagine Neil Armstrong bouncing around with an extension cord.

 

Black and Decker worked with NASA to develop a computer program that optimized their drills, motor the new design, reduced the kickback from things, and also extended battery life on the moon. It worked very nicely. Today, that basic motor design is in household tools everywhere.

 

2. THE THERMOMETER

 

 

Remember the last time you were really sick and went to the doctor? A nurse might have popped a gadget in your ear, waited two seconds, and then reported that you had a fever. Before 1991, these oral infrared thermometers didn't exist. If you wanted to know how sick you were, you'd have to wait around for quite a bit with a mercury thermometer held under your tongue - but ain't nobody got time for that. Plus, mercury is super toxic, so we want to avoid keeping it in our mouths as much as we can.

 

The Dietetic Corporation turned to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to examine the infrared technology it used to measure the temperatures of distant stars. They used it to create a thermometer that measures the infrared energy emitted from your eardrum, giving results in a fraction of the time of a mercury thermometer would.

 

3. SCRATCH RESISTANCE

 

 

Now think about modern eyeglasses and sunglasses. Not too long ago, my glasses were actually made of glass. In the 1970s, regulators began requiring manufacturers to make them using plastic, because it's lighter, safer, and it won't shatter into your eyeball. However, plastic also scratches really easily, which is a bummer. At the time NASA was working on a different problem, its engineers were trying to come up with a new water-purification system, and in the process, they developed a really sleek and tough new coating for the filters, made from a compound of carbon and silicon. The stuff turned out to be incredibly durable, and soon became used as a scratch resistant coating to protect all kinds of equipment- particularly, astronaut helmet visors from the dings and dents of flying particles in outer space.

 

By the 1990s, mainstream manufacturers began using the same technology. And now almost all kinds of glasses use some form of it.

 

4. MEMORY FOAM

 

 

Finally, one of the most famous spin-off technologies began when NASA realized that rocket ships needed better cushioning to make seats and crash pads that could withstand the impact of landing. So, engineers developed an open-cell plastic foam made from polyurethane and silicone that absorb shock efficiently by spreading it out. But the foam could also quickly spring back, returning to its original shape even after being compressed to ten percent of its original size. That cushiony foam is now used in airplanes, football helmets, motorcycle seats, and yes, those mattresses that let you jump around without spilling your glass of wine.

 

So think about it: in addition to missions towards asteroids and telescopes that probe the distant reaches of the Universe and space stations that conduct experiments in orbit, NASA is inventing stuff that helps us work, stay healthy, and most importantly keep our butts comfortable.

 

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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject. Reid, Reimers. "Four Awesome NASA Inventions You Use Every Day." SciShow Space, YouTube. 10 June, 2014. Web video.

Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "Four Everyday Things NASA Invented." SkyFeed. 28 March, 2018. Web article.

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