Be Curious! / Science

NASA: The Great Inventor

English: The NASA insignia. Español: Insignia ...

Yesterday, our nation’s manned space program at NASA came to an indefinite halt. Sigh. Big sigh.

I wrote about this last week as well, but now seems like a good time to look at how much NASA‘s program has improved our lives.

While much of the rumored NASA inventions like Tang, Teflong and Velcro turned out to be urban legends, or what NASA calls spinoffs (these revelations bummed me out considerably, btw), NASA’s space program has measurably improved our lives with radical technology.


It turns out the number of “spin-offs” that first flew in space, but now rest with we mere earth-bound mortals is pretty staggering.

NASA Spinoff, an annual publication of these technologies has documented over 1,700 NASA inventions and new technology.

And while a large number of these applications are more industrial than personal, our lives have been directly impacted for the better.

Here’s my own top five list of how NASA’s neato inventions have eeked their way directly into my life:

  1. Memory Foam: Yep, that Tempur-pedic bed on which you dream (or of which you dream of dreaming on), is a direct results of NASA’s improved seating for astronauts. I don’t have a memory foam mattress, but I’ve got one of those pillows, and they’re great for fixing a sore neck.
  2. Eyeglasses/Sunglasses: Thank NASA for the scratch proof lens as well as the anti-glare coating on your glasses.
  3. Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detectors: There are no fire stations in space (yet), so NASA developed the technology to detect smoke and hazardous gases before they could overtake a crew. You may now curse NASA the next time your smoke detector’s battery  goes off at 4:00 a.m.
  4. Sneakers: The molded soles of our athletic shoes came out of the “blow molding” technology used for molding astronauts’  boots.
  5. Water Filtration: NASA’s efforts to keep potable water on board space craft — including reverse osmosis — have helped make it possible for us to clean up contaminated water supplies and drink better water right out of the tap.

Outdoorsmen/women have really benefited from inventions like freeze-dried foods and those paper-thin radiant barrier blankets. I keep one in the car’s emergency kit, just in case I’m ever stranded in a freak south Texas snowstorm, ya know…

Radiant barrier technology has greatly improved energy efficiency in buildings, too.  In fact, NASA has helped green building practices with the development of solar screens, computerized solar water heaters, emergency lighting systems , and air purification systems.

The healthcare industry and your medicine cabinets may have seen the greatest application of NASA’s inventions.

They’ve contributed to improved prosthetic limbs, kidney dialysis, physical therapy, robotic arms for delicate surgery, MRIs, ear thermometers, invisible braces, blood analysis, heart pumps, LED cancer therapy, and therapeutic drugs and antibodies.

We can thank NASA for improving our navigation systems (including your GPS), weather monitoring systems, and photo and video imaging has been improved by  panoramic imaging systems and low-light technologies. Sensitive infrared cameras are used to detect forest fires.

And because space is a pretty inhospitable place, NASA’s efforts to keep astronauts safe have resulted in the development of any number of technologies that have been adopted to life here on earth:

  • Cool suits alleviate dangers from high-heat environments and medical conditions.
  • Demolition explosives to take down unsafe buildings and bridges.
  • Monitors to detect gasses, mechanical failures, and changes in air pressure.
  • Robots that can be used to enter potentially unsafe environments and detect danger.
  • The “Jaws of Life” which can be used to extract victims from wrecked cars.

Finally, if this weren’t enough, NASA can take a little credit for improving our golf games. I don’t play golf, but NASA’s “superelastic” technology has apparently made select clubs hit those balls almost as though they were hit on the moon.

I hope I live long enough to see a lot more manned space exploration. I hope it isn’t so driven by private industry that the motive for profit outweighs a commitment to safety. I hope space isn’t so monetized that entities act as if they “own” it. I hope the fruits of that work above us continue to positively impact our lives on earth.

Til then, I raise my coffee mug to all the men and women of NASA. Thanks for the memories.

To read more about NASA’s contributions to modern life, visit:

And if you’re like me and prefer the wide screen, check out NASA TV. You just might learn a few nifty things.


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