NASA is always creating new and never seen before products to benefit space expedition, whether it’s to improve astronaut safety, boost the performance of shuttles or enhance data collection. However, once these products have been created by the whizzes at NASA, the technology is then repurposed and reimagined for use back on earth. Here are 10 examples of products we use every day that wouldn’t have been created without help from NASA.
Mobile phone cameras, panoramic photography & HD video
In the 90’s NASA invented digital image sensors based on complementary metal oxide semiconductors (CMOS). This enabled tiny, battery-friendly cameras to be incorporated into mobile phones and high-definition video that can be found in products like Go-Pros.
Spaceport in Cobra Puma Golf Driver Card
In 1979 an invention that increased the clamping power of screws and bolts was discovered by a researcher at Goddard Space Flight, enabling them to survive repeated Shuttle launches. Cobra Puma Golf created a new driver head that included a “spaceport” using this technology, which allowed for the lowest centre of gravity ever achieved in a golf club.
A remote-controlled robot called Robonaut was created by engineers at the Robotic Systems Technology Branch at Johnson Space Center, for use as an extra set of hands in extracurricular activities where it was too dangerous for humans to go. Due to a poor field of view, NASA partnered with Sensics to provide an additional panoramic view of what the bot saw as well as remote controls to manoeuvre Robonaut. This technology spawned the mass development and production of VR headsets, such as ones you can now find in the gaming world.
Temperature-regulating fabrics for babies?
NASA needed to manage heat inside a spacesuit and used phase-change materials (PCMs). PCMs absorb and release thermal energy during the process of melting and freezing. This led to the creation of fabrics incorporating PCMs, such as San Francisco-based Embrace Innovations who used it in wraps and blankets that help keep babies stay at an optimal temperature.
Lithium battery, CO2 emission sensors & high-speed cameras
Hybrid Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of lithium-ion battery electric vehicles entered into a Space Act Agreement with Kennedy Space Center to determine the utility of lithium-powered fleet vehicles. NASA contributed engineering expertise and tested a fleet of zero-emission vehicles on the Kennedy campus. Hybrid Technologies now offers a series of purpose-built lithium electric vehicles dubbed the LiV series, aimed at the urban and commuter markets.
Through the ASCENDS project, NASA hopes to learn more about how carbon dioxide (CO2) seasonally concentrates and dissipates in the atmosphere. A contractor from Langley Research Center who worked on the project went on to found Knoxville, Tennessee-based Hager Environmental and Atmospheric Technologies (HEAT) Inc. HEAT’s first product, based on a NASA sensor designed to measure atmospheric CO2 from space, remotely measures car and truck emissions and is currently used by four U.S. states to check vehicle compliance.
Johnson Space Center required a highspeed, compact, rugged video camera to film parachute deployment on the Orion spacecraft. Integrated Design Tools (IDT) developed a camera capable of filming up to 1,000 frames per second and backing that data up nearly as fast. All of IDT’s Os series of cameras now include the high-speed, solid-state memory developed for Orion. These cameras are now used in car and truck crash tests to review crashes and seek improvements.
Blue light-cancelling lenses
In the 1990s, NASA developed optical filters to block blue and green light, allowing other hues to stand out. Colorado-based Optic Nerve Inc. created a line of ski goggles that filter about 95 per cent of blue light, giving skiers a much clearer view on the slopes with an increase in visual acuity and depth perception by an average of 12–15 per cent.
Gardening at home & in space
NASA & BioServe Space Technologies developed aeroponic gardening (the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without soil) for space flight. One element, the Seed Pod, has since been used on the International Space Station, as its design would protect tomato seeds and prevent premature germination. AeroGrow International Inc. designed and released a line of countertop gardens based upon these NASA studies, which allows homeowners to grow plants indoors and in a controlled environment.
Food/nutrition for babies
In order to address basic needs of crews, meet stringent payload and power usage restrictions, and minimize space occupancy, NASA developed living, regenerative ecosystems that would take care of themselves and their inhabitants. NASA used a method for manufacturing an algae-based food supplement that provides the nutrients previously only available in breast milk. This supplement is now in over 90 per cent of the infant formulas sold in over 66 countries. With such widespread use, the company estimates that over 24 million babies worldwide have consumed its nutritional additives.
Due to NASA’s Langley Research Centre’s experience in studying the forces of friction and drag, swimming giants Speedo asked the agency to help design a swimsuit shortly after the 2004 Olympics. The LZR Racer reduces skin friction drag 24 per cent more than the previous Speedo racing suit. The research seems to have paid off; in March 2008, athletes wearing the LZR Racer broke 13 world records.
Hearing aid batteries
NASA developed rechargeable silver-zinc batteries, as the pairing offers a higher power-to-weight ratio than any other battery couple. Glenn Research Center then advanced the batteries’ durability. ZPower of Camarillo, California, undertook years of additional development before releasing its rechargeable hearing aid batteries, the first that can last all day on a single charge.