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.