5 NASA inventions that improved life on Earth

No, Velcro is a Swiss invention

It turns out some people don’t like NASA and don’t approve of all the money that gets pumped into it by the US government. Yeah they’ve landed on the moon, explored other planets, and stared billions of years into the past but what good does that do normal people? The answer is quite a lot. The driving force of most space agencies is the peaceful exploration of the universe and quest for knowledge but it takes a lot of innovation to do these things. It’s not uncommon for new technologies at NASA to work their way into our everyday lives.

There are a bunch of things that people mistakenly think NASA invented, like Velcro and microchips. There are also some cool inventions by people who worked for NASA and then did their own thing, like the creator of the Super Soaker. The lives of many people have been changed by innovations that resulted from attempts to explore the cosmos. Here are just 5 NASA inventions that improved life on Earth.

 1. Memory foam

Image © Wikimedia/GFDL

On behalf of everyone, thank you NASA. Memory foam is used in beds to give us a good sleep but can also be found in vehicle seats, sports safety equipment, and horse saddles. In the 1960s, Charles Yost was an engineer at NASA working on the recovery of spacecraft and astronauts after landing. He later joined NASA’s Ames Research Center to develop seating for airplanes that could protect pilots and passengers in the event of crashing. Yost’s plastic foam was found to be great for safety and comfort so he founded his own company to bring it to the masses and the rest is history.

2. Scratch-resistant glasses

Image © Nancy Zambrano

The lenses used in most glasses today are plastic, since the older glass lenses could shatter and send glass straight in your eyeballs. We’re very happy with the shatter-resistant plastic and that modern glasses are much lighter. The downside? Plastic scratches really easy so lenses would need be replaced often if it weren’t for another NASA innovation.

Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center created protective coatings for plastics when working on the water purifiers to be used on spacecraft. It worked so well that they adapted the technology for their helmet visors among other things. In the 1980s a sunglasses manufacturer, Foster Grant, licensed the technology from NASA and since then it has become commonplace and much appreciated.

3. Infrared ear thermometers

Image © Wikimedia/Jason7825

Researchers at NASA are big fans of anything that can detect thermal radiation. NASA had to invent technology to measure the temperature of planets or distant stars without actually visiting them and sticking a thermometer into the surface. They developed tech that could detect the infrared radiation given off by the stars and planets and record the results digitally.

That same technology for measuring the temperature of distant worlds is now used to measure the temperature inside your ear. The Diatek Corporation approached NASA and asked for help transforming the sensor technology into a hand-held device for measuring ear temperature without touching the mucous membranes. Now it takes just seconds to take someone’s temperature and they don’t even have to be conscious.

4. Digital mammographies

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Moon

Charge-coupled devices (CCDs) were invented at AT&T Bell Labs in the 1960s. They allow the movement of electrical charge and are very important in digital imaging. Most of our digital cameras today use CCDs to turn data captured from the camera lens into digital data.

NASA uses CCDs on spacecraft to capture images and send the data back to Earth. In the 1990s, NASA developed supersensitive CCDs to be used by the Hubble Space Telescope so that it could capture and record images of faint, distant objects in the universe.

The same technology that can see distant worlds in greater detail can be used to see our own bodies in greater detail. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center teamed up with the LORAD Corporation to use the technology for digital mammographies to reduce the need for invasive procedures. The non-invasive technique also uses less radiation.

5. Insulin pump

Image © flikr/Erin Stevenson O'Connor

Astronauts are put through extreme stresses and have to survive in some of the most unforgiving environments imaginable. A big part of any crewed mission is the monitoring of the astronauts’ vital signs. Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Sensor created technology that could be worn by the astronauts to track important medical data.

In the late 1980s, NASA modified the technology to be used for people with Type-1 diabetes. At the time, people were already using insulin dispensers and injecting themselves daily. The technology NASA developed allowed implanted devices that could monitor blood sugar levels and send signals to a device to release insulin when required.

There are plenty of other NASA innovations that we use all the time including fire-fighting equipment, anti-icing systems, enriched baby food, and even portable vacuum cleaners. Remember that when NASA or the ESA is developing new tech to travel to other stars, some of it will work its way into our daily lives too.


Main image © PublicDomainImages.net/Tammy Sue