These Everyday Items We Use Came from NASA
Sometimes, the everyday items that we often use were actually used in space. Some products that were used by NASA during its space travel missions have also found purpose down here on earth. There are numerous articles that talk about the benefits space travel has brought to mankind, but even the products that astronauts used to survive in space are also benefiting the lifestyle on earth.
When NASA independently develops a technology that they believe can benefit a large number of people, they occasionally make it available to the general public so that companies and people can create products around it. Other times, the company that NASA collaborated with to develop the technology owns the patent. The first to kick off on the list are Nike Air shoes.
The idea came from a NASA employee, Frank Rudy, who thought of using the technology they had been using to make astronaut helmets into making shoes. Here, the process involves injecting an inert gas into melted plastic as it is being formed. This allows the plastic to sustain the air inside, while the gas fills the space between the molecules and this ends up making a cushion. As a result, it significantly lessens the force of an impact. Rudy patented the concept and presented it to Nike. The Air Tailwind, the first shoe made with AIR technology, was introduced by the company in 1978. They continue to produce their renowned range of sneakers using the AIR name and technology.
The story goes as the Liberty Bell 7 capsule's hatch prematurely burst up in the middle of the ocean during a test for Project Mercury, a forerunner to the Apollo program, in 1961, drowning it and damaging the communication equipment. As a result, astronaut Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom was left cut off from his rescue squad and stuck in the water. Thankfully, Grissom was located by the helicopters a little while later and safely transported home.
From this experience NASA learned that astronauts required a means of communication independent of ships and capsules. Then, they called Pacific Plantronics, a relatively new audio company that had developed a military headset. The two then collaborated to find a stable and wireless approach to incorporate their technology into the astronauts' helmets.
Later on, the technology progressed into the first wireless headphones. Yet, they were still expensive for the average person until the 2000s, millions of individuals today utilize them on a daily basis.
Although there were a few portable computers before it, GRiD Systems Corporation's GRiD Compass introduced the clamshell design that is still employed by every laptop today. The GRiD was an ideal choice to go aboard the space shuttle due to its tough, resilient construction. NASA therefore worked with the business to adapt it and create the SPOC (Shuttle Portable On-board Computer) in 1982. With today's laptop technology, the GRiD seems like a toy. The display had a 320x200 resolution, 340 kilobytes of memory, and a 1,200 bit/s modem. The base model cost a whopping $8,000 ($25,000 in today's dollars, adjusted for inflation), and it weighs 11 pounds (5 kg).
Most often, astronauts brought back rocks from the moon or other destinations to earth to study about other planetary life. Bringing back the first samples of lunar rocks and soil was one of the goals of the Apollo program, which began in 1962 and culminated with the Moon landings in 1969–1972. The sub-soil samples posed a challenge as they required a drill that operated with its own power source and under lunar gravity conditions, whereas the surface rocks were simple to collect by hand. To create this equipment, NASA collaborated with the electronics manufacturer Black & Decker.
The most difficult part was creating a motor that used little energy. In 1979, Black & Decker released the first portable vacuum cleaner to the general public after adapting the technology for usage as a household appliance. Later, the same technology was utilized in tens of thousands of items for several different industries.
We have come across a number of NASA inventions that have their roots in security measures for this reason. Such is the situation with visco-elastic foam, also referred to as memory foam in modern slang. This substance was created in the 1970s to improve durability, boost crash protection for astronauts, and provide support under high G forces. It took several decades for businesses to lower production costs to a point where the typical customer could afford them. Later, the technology was modified to make beds, pillows, gaming chairs, and other things that are more pleasant.
LADAR, an image system created by NASA and the Alcon company in the 1980s, could track even the smallest motions at a rate of 4,000 times per second. They required it to instantly make millimetric docking system modifications. It turns out that LADAR addressed the precise issue that ophthalmologists faced. They now possessed equipment that could not only accurately track eye movements but also make changes in real time. Thus, LASIK surgery was created years later.
Frozen and Dried Food
Transporting food to space is challenging. It must taste good, be able to last for longer time, have some nutritional content, produce little to no crumbs to keep them from getting on the ship's fragile machinery, and be lightweight packed. For this reason, NASA has invested heavily in research to create novel food preservation techniques. One of the more effective initiatives took place in the late 1950s, following the Mercury project, when astronauts voiced strong complaints about the mission-related food they received since it was an unattractive, toothpaste-like material with no flavor. This is how the science that allows us to produce freeze-dried food was developed. Although the method was not new, it was time-consuming and required boiling water before this. It was improved through NASA research to allow using cold water and take less time to prepare. These days, freeze-dried foods are utilized in hospitals, on hiking trips, for baby food, and in emergency supplies.
To keep the International Space Station operating, water had to be recycled effectively. Two steps are involved in this process. One for producing oxygen, the other for recovering water. First, the WRS (Water Recovery System) and its essential elements are made of an iodinated resin that inhibits the growth of microorganisms without the need for an energy source. It serves as the main component of a component known as the Microbial Check Valve (MCV). The MCV was originally made available outside the ISS to a non-profit group called Concern for Kids, and since then has been utilized to build inexpensive and efficient purifying systems for both commercial uses and aid in underdeveloped nations.
NASA has also numerously contributed to the medical field and when combined with robotics, artificial limbs came out as a result. The technology that NASA investigates and creates to enable space exploration has also assisted in the development of this biotechnology field, from shock-absorption materials to artificial muscle systems or approaches that avoid heat buildup.