Shooting rockets into space and shooting tiny golf balls onto the green have much more in common than you'd think. Ever since the 1960s, whenever NASA has debuted a new material or technology, the $76-billion-a-year golf industry has always been happy to find a way to equate the sport with high-tech space research.
Before NASA sends anything into orbit, the organization makes sure to send it through a dizzying array of tests -- some of which involve high speed cameras able to snap dozens of pictures per second. When the Ohio-based Ben Hogan Company wanted to study how its golf balls spun after being hit, the company struck a deal with NASA to have a golfer tee off in front of NASA's cameras. By analyzing and reanalyzing the slow-motion images, Ben Hogan Company designers were able to engineer carefully the spin characteristics of their next golf ball.
For years, NASA has been working with the Connecticut-based Memry Corporation to develop a flexible metal that would allow a spacecraft to fix itself after being struck by a micrometeorite. Using a process known as "shape memory effect," astronauts would simply heat the metal until it snapped back to its original shape. While it's not as dramatic, the Memry Corporation also adopted a similar type of flexible metal to create a golf club that bends ever-so-slightly when it strikes a ball, giving the golfer a split-second more control. Who knows? NASA's self-repairing metal could also one day be used to help repair the bent clubs of temperamental golfers.
Space technology may even take credit for less foot odor on the green. Some high-end golf shoes now include Outlast, a fabric equipped with hundreds of microparticles that are able to absorb or release heat. With temperatures in low Earth orbit at about -382 degrees Fahrenheit (-270 degrees Celsius), Outlast was originally designed to keep spacewalking astronauts comfortable while building the International Space Station. On Earth, the material's temperature-regulating abilities can cut sweating in golf shoes by almost 50 percent. With about 4 ounces (0.12 liters) less sweat floating around in your socks after a golf game, the effects on foot hygiene should be sweeping.