We all know who NASA is. They put guys on the moon. They put space shuttles in orbit. Someday they’ll put people on Mars. But did you know they’re also responsible for some of the stuff we use in our lives everyday? Here is a list of things that you probably use on a regular basis but might have never known originated from the labs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
That selfie you took at the beach? Thank NASA for it. This little camera was invented in the early 1990s by Eric Fossum who worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). At the time, NASA was trying to miniaturize cameras that were placed on-board interplanetary spacecraft that would be lightweight while also maintaining high-quality images for scientific purposes. Fossum’s solution was called the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor Active Pixel Sensor (CMOS-APS). As cell phone cameras exploded onto the scene in the mid-2000s, Fossum’s invention proved the ideal camera for small spaces. Not only was NASA responsible for the CMOS-APS, they are also responsible for digital photography itself, a concept that was the brainchild of JPL engineer Eugene Lally in the 1960s.
The Dust Buster
While Black and Decker already had the battery-powered tool concept in 1961, it was NASA who fast-tracked the technology to put us where we are today in the world of cordless tools. During the Apollo missions, NASA required a portable drill capable of extracting core samples from below the lunar surface. They worked with Black and Decker to develop a computer program that would optimize the design of the drill’s motor to create the most efficient use of its power. It was that computer program that led to the portable vacuum cleaner we now call the Dustbuster.
NASA’s continuous funding and research into the area of prosthetic limbs has led to some of the most technologically advanced artificial limbs ever conceived. In partnership with private-sector companies, this research has led to advances in robotics and shock-absorptive materials as well as the development of artificial muscle systems with robotic sensing and functionally dynamic prostheses.
NASA researchers are responsible for a dramatic decrease in the number of highway accidents and increased safety in the areas of airplane takeoffs and touchdowns. The invention of grooved pavement on both runways and interstate highways have improved the performance of airplane tire friction performance on wet runways by 200-300% and have cut down on highway accidents due to slippery conditions by 85%.
When you’re falling asleep on your nice memory foam pillow, think of NASA. This breakthrough material was designed in the 1970s for aircraft seats to minimize the impact during landings and improve crash protection for commercial airplane passengers. The open cell polyurethane-silicon also gave space shuttle astronauts something nice and cushy to sit on as they rocketed into orbit. Memory foam is also being used by doctors to support patients by reducing pressure on certain body parts. The material is now incorporated into several widely used products, such as pillows, mattresses, sports safety equipment, amusement park rides, and human and animal prostheses. NASCAR also uses it to provide additional safety to drivers.
Those solar panels that might power some of your homes and offices? NASA. In the late 1980s, NASA sponsored a 28-member coalition of private companies, universities, and other government organizations to create solar power sources. The union, called the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Alliance, was tasked with the goal of building a remotely piloted aircraft to fly unmanned missions at high altitudes for days at a time using a power source that did not add weight to the craft. The result of these single-crystal silicon solar cells was improved energy at a relatively lower cost and reduced pollution.
A lot of us take clean water for granted. Next time you take a drink of water, give NASA a thanks. The agency created special filters in the 1970s to ensure that astronauts had safe drinking water while in space. Working with Umpqua Research Company, NASA crafted filter cartridges that used iodine to clean water supplies from the space shuttles. The Microbial Check Valve, as it is called, is now an important part of cleaning water for municipal water plants. Recently, NASA has increased its studies in creating units that are able to more efficiently recycle human waste into a safe drinkable water resource.
It’s a great time to live for those of us who have to wear eyeglasses. Prior to this NASA invention, glasses were made of the easily shattering kind of glass, which wasn’t so great if you were the person behind the lenses. In 1972, the FDA required manufacturers of eyeglasses to use plastic instead of glass for lenses. Unfortunately, however, plastic tends to scratch easily. NASA scientist Ted Wydeven of the agency’s Ames Research Center then created a thin, plastic coat that would protect space helmet visors and other aerospace equipment from dirt and other debris. In 1983, Foster-Grant, the sunglasses manufacturer, commercialized the scratch-resistant coating.
Featured photo credit: Elle.com via elle.com