A very long list of gadgets, materials and processes originally were developed for the U.S. space program but found other applications back on Earth -- so many that NASA has an office that looks for ways to repurpose space technology as products. We all know about freeze-dried food, but there are plenty of others. In the 1960s, for example, NASA scientists developed a plastic coated with a metallic reflecting agent. When used in a blanket, it reflects about 80 percent of a user's body heat back to him or her — an ability that helps accident victims and post-marathon runners to stay warm.
Another more obscure but valuable innovation is nitinol, a flexible but resilient alloy that was developed to enable satellites to spring open after being folded into a rocket. Today, orthodontists equip patients with braces made from the material [source: Independent].