How did NASA change the way we clean up messes?

Astronaut Image Gallery How are an astronaut and a hand-held vacuum related? Their connection to NASA, of course. See more astronaut pictures.

NASA, the space program of the U.S. government, has long been credited with civilian applications of technologies they created for use in outer space. In fact, it's happened so many times that these products have an official name: "NASA spinoffs." These technological breakthroughs may have been intended for use on various space shuttles, rockets and space stations, but many have found good use in the daily lives some very important professions. Advanced artificial limbs, anti-icing systems for aircraft, improved race car tires and fire-resistant equipment and clothing for fire fighters are just a handful of the dozens of technologies that NASA has given the world.

Thanks to the research done at NASA, baby formula is now enriched with fatty acids that are contained in human breast milk, and lasers used in space to detect harmful gases play a part in advanced heart surgeries. But not all of NASA's spinoffs have been for the benefit of surgeons, pilots, fire fighters, amputees, race car drivers or even new mothers. Some of NASA's research has led to advancements in everyday technology that benefit your average Joe or Jane. In fact, chances are that hardly a week goes by that you don't benefit in some way from a technology made possible by the engineers at NASA. There's one invention in particular that's been helping us clean up our homes and businesses since 1979. Click on the next page to find out what it is.

NASA and the DustBuster

Do you bust your dust?
Do you bust your dust?

If you have a small amount of dust or dirt on your floor, you might reach for a portable, hand-held vacuum cleaner to get the mess cleared away. It's quick and easy to use, cordless and rechargeable, and can easily clean up most small messes with little effort. The earliest version of the hand-held vacuum cleaner, the Mod4 system, was first introduced by Black and Decker in 1975. Four years later, the infamous DustBuster made its debut in the United States, and our kitchen countertops and floors haven't been the same since. Vacuum cleaners at the time were large and heavy, and probably too often kept in the closet when small spills occurred. The DustBuster was revolutionary, as evidenced by the million-plus units sold in the first year alone, and more than 100 million total since then [source: Black and Decker].

It's probably no surprise that you have NASA to thank for this technology. However, it wasn't the exploration of the vacuum that led to the DustBuster. Engineers at Black and Decker were working with NASA at the time to develop a cordless and self-contained power drill for use on the Apollo moon landings between 1963 and 1972. This advancement led to some brainstorming on the part of Black and Decker for all kinds of cordless household appliances. The key to all of the technology was a computer program that Black and Decker developed to ensure that the battery-powered drill had a motor that could perform well with a minimal amount of power consumption. It would only be a few years later that Black and Decker applied this same breakthrough to the cordless Mod4 system and then later on the DustBuster.

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  • "50 years, 50 giant leaps: How Nasa rocked our world.", July 29, 2008.
  • "DustBuster Timeline.", 2011.
  • "Human Space Flight.", 2011.
  • "NASA Spinoffs.", 2011.