We watch NASA astronauts in awe, day-dreaming of catapulting into space -- even if only for a moment of weightless existence. Most of us feel far removed from outer space, watching from the sidelines as the space agency shines a light on our mysterious universe. But we may not be as far removed as we think.
Since its inception in 1958, NASA's laundry list of accomplishments includes the first American in space in 1961, the first man to walk on the moon in 1969, a flight to Jupiter in 1972 and the installation of the International Space Station in 1998. (Read NASA's 10 Greatest Achievements to learn more.) Eight percent of all the world's inventions have come, in some form, from NASA research [source: NASA 360]. The organization's technology keeps the United States globally competitive in scientific research.
Much of the pioneering technology initially created for space travel finds new life in our homes. In fact, it may surprise you how many space-age technological advancements of the past now rest in your attic.
How has NASA affected the Dallas Cowboys? Find out on the next page.
Launching astronauts into space at speeds of 17,500 miles per hour (7.823 kilometers per second) meant a rough ride until the invention of memory foam in 1966 [sources: Chang, NASA Spinoff]. NASA commissioned inventor Charles Yost to minimize impact and increase survivability of crashes aboard Apollo crafts. Today we use the technology in a host of applications, including that discarded mattress pad that sits idle in your attic until your out-of-town guests stop by for a sleepover.
This "slow spring back foam" became known as temper foam and is now found in mattress pads, orthopedic sitting pads, motorcycle seats, saddles and splint pads [source: NASA Spinoff]. It minimizes impact by compressing to 10 percent of its original size before springing back to its initial shape. It also wicks water away rather than absorbing it like other forms of padding.
Memory foam is especially helpful in the medical industry by providing added comfort to bedridden patients. The material avoids excessive pressure on certain points of the body, preventing bedsores. The technology even found a home in the Dallas Cowboy's helmets in the 1970s and 1980s.
Do we have NASA to thank for the cordless drill? Read on to find out.
Cordless Power Tools
That cordless power drill you gave dad years ago now sits lifeless in storage. Though today it seems insignificant, cordless tools were a crucial invention necessary for space travel. While NASA didn't actually invent the cordless power drill, a partnership with Black and Decker is responsible for many of the cordless tools we have today.
Well aware that outer space didn't come with electrical sockets, NASA joined with Black and Decker, which was already working on cordless technology in the 1950s [source: NASA 360]. Alonzo Decker came up with the idea for cordless tools to help workers installing storm windows in residential homes. While installing storm windows, workmen would plug into power sockets indoors. The process was cumbersome and inconvenient. Decker knew he was on to something. Conveniently, NASA urgently needed the technology in space, and so an alliance was born.
Together they designed the cordless rotary hammer drill for the Apollo 15 moon program. The cordless hammer drill extracted rock samples from the moon for testing on Earth. This early invention led to other cordless tools including the cordless vacuum, drill and shrub trimmer.
Read on to learn what automatic film advancement meant for space travel.
Nikon Automatic Film Advancement Cameras
We're obsessed with digital cameras. We view photos digitally before they're ever printed. Memories are no longer stored in photo albums, but instead we share them virtually through online social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr. But before digital cameras, Nikon's automatic film advancement camera changed the face of photography. While that clunky camera may not see the light of day today, the invention initially meant the space crew could record images of space in a weightless environment.
Nikons were first used in Apollo missions 15 to 17 in the 1970s [source: Nikon]. Astronauts could quickly advance to the next picture and tell a story through photos. This space-friendly camera came with special criteria. Its easy operation meant the crew could manage it while wearing gloves. It was also free of any environmental gases or toxins, which was critical in an air-tight environment.
The camera also had a built-in light leaver that adjusted automatically, making for clear images from space. Today, Nikon's partnership with NASA continues to generate stunning images from outer space.
NASA takes the nuisance out of the smoke detector, on the next page.
The Non-nuisance Smoke Detector
While NASA didn't actually invent the first smoke detector, it did come up with a more modern version of the invention after partnering with Honeywell Corporation in the 1970s [source: NASA]. Equipped with a self-recharging nickel cadmium battery, the Honeywell AC/battery backup smoke and fire detector was the most sophisticated alarm system ever invented [source: NASA Tech].
Non-nuisance smoke alarms protect us from the dangers of fire damage and smoke without continuous false alarms. We can cook foods at high temperatures without enduring the persistent beeping of an oversensitive alarm.
America's first space station, Skylab, prevented noxious gases from harming the crew using the invention. The new smoke detector had adjustable sensitivity so that the crew would be safe without unnecessary interruptions. And today, you likely guard your attic against fire dangers with a more modern version of this safety device. (For more details on smoke detectors, read How Smoke Detectors Work.)
What modern invention protects the space crew from extreme temperatures? Find out on the next page.
Smart House Radiant Barriers
You're probably wondering what a Smart House Radiant Barrier is, let alone why it would be in your attic. It's the most cutting-edge version of home insulation, and using the technology -- along with other advanced home-building techniques -- can amount to a 50 percent increase in heating and cooling efficiency [source: Smart Houses].
In fact, the Smart House Program, a business venture started by Guaranteed Watt Saver Systems, Inc. and Smart House Consultants, often guarantees a ceiling on your energy usage each month.
The technology was first used to create an airtight Apollo spacecraft. Efficiency has much larger implications in space, where outside temperatures range from 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204.44 degrees Celsius) to 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 240 Celsius) [source: Smart Houses]. The advanced seal kept the temperatures inside the vessel comfortable.
The main component of the technology, an aluminized heat shield, translates to highly efficient residential construction. The barrier keeps warm and cold air out -- along with water vapors -- and reflects 95 percent of the sun's radiant heat [source: NASA Benefits at Home].
Is your interest in NASA beginning to reach new heights? You're in luck -- we have lots more information on the next page.
NASA's HiDyRS-X camera was built for rocket science tests. Learn more about the rocket camera in this HowStuffWorks Now article.
- Black and Decker. "Dusting Off a Bit of History." (March 10, 2011)http://www.blackanddecker.com/dustbuster/dustbuster_innovation/default.aspx
- Chang, Kenneth. "Space Tourism May Mean One Giant Leap for Researchers." The New York Times. Feb. 28, 2011. (March 6, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/science/space/01orbit.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&ref=science
- Consumer Home Recreation NASA Web site. "High Tech, Low Temp Insulation." (March 8, 2011)http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20020064734_2002103728.pdf
- Energy. "Smart Houses." (March 10, 2011)http://electra.ihmc.us/rid=1J205DDXJ-27ZRJZ9-1ZFZ/insulation.pdf
- Marshall Space Flight Center Web site. "At Home With NASA." (March 10, 2011)http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home/home3.htm
- NASA Spinoff. "Forty-Year-Old Foam Springs Back With New Benefits." 2005. (March 8, 2011)http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2005/ch_6.html
- NASA Spinoff. "Home Insulation." 1994. (March 8, 2011)http://www.sti.nasa.gov/spinoff/spinitem?title=Home+Insulation
- NASA Spinoff. "NASA Podcasts" Aug. 25, 2008. (March 8, 2011)http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/podcasting/nasa360/nasa360-0101.html
- NASA Spinoff. "Spinoff Frequently Asked Questions." (March 8, 2011)http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/spinfaq.htm
- NASA Tech. "25 Years of NASA Tech Briefs." (March 10, 2011)http://www.nasatech.com/Features/timeline/timeline.html
- NASA Web site. "NASA Benefits at Home." July 29, 2004. (March 10, 2011)http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/k4/features/F_NASA_Benefits_at_Home_prt.htm
- Nikon Web site. "Vol. 12. Special titanium Nikon cameras and NASA cameras." (March 7, 2011)http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/technology/history/rhnc12ti-e/index.htm
- Otto, Sasjkia. "Apollo 11 moon landing: top 15 NASA inventions." The Telegraph. July 22, 2009. (March 7, 2011)http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/5893387/Apollo-11-moon-landing-top-15-Nasa-inventions.html