10 everyday products you never knew NASA had invented

Think NASA and what springs to mind? It’s probably the Apollo missions to the moon. Or maybe it’s the International Space Station. But the organisation, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has also changed our lives here on earth with many of its innovations that were intended for space….

Here are 10 examples of products we use every day that wouldn’t have been created without help from the guys over at NASA.

1. 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 as well as high-definition video cameras that can now be found in products like Go-Pros.

NASA’s R2 robots pictured in July 2009

2. Virtual Reality

A remote-controlled robot called Robonaut (pictured above) 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.

3. 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 use it in wraps and blankets to help keep babies stay at an optimal temperature.

NASA created phase-changing materials (PCM) inside spacesuits to manage temperature – this led to the creation of blankets and wraps to help keep babies stay at an optimal temperature.

A NASA invention which increased the clamping power of screws and bolts was used in a golf club that claims to offer the lowest centre of gravity ever achieved .

To film parachute deployment on the Orion spacecraft, NASA developed high-speed cameras which are now used in car and truck crash tests.

NASA developed optical filters to block blue and green light which are now used in ski goggles to  filter out about 95% of blue light. This gives skiers a much clearer view on the slopes.

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% of the infant formulas sold in over 66 countries.

4. Lithium Batteries, 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. 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.
CO2 Emission sensors – 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 US states to check vehicle compliance.
High-speed cameras – 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.

5. Record-Breaking Swimsuits

Due to NASA’s Langley Research Centre’s experience in studying the forces of friction and drag, swimming giant Speedo asked the agency to help design a swimsuit shortly after the 2004 Olympics in order to reduce drag in the water. 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.

6. 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.

7. Gardening at home and in space

One of the biggest challenges in sending humans into space is finding ways to adequately feed them. The typical way is to store as much food as is needed for the duration of the mission. However, this isn’t particularly viable for very long term missions, such as future space flights.

As a result, 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 helps to 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.

8. 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.

ZPower’s rechargeable silver-zinc hearing aid batteries fit into a specialised door that can be retrofitted onto most existing hearing aids

9. 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.

10. 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. This allowed for the lowest centre of gravity ever achieved in a golf club.

This post was produced in conjunction with PowerTools2U

Chris Price