How did NASA make snow skiing safer?

By: Michael Franco

Vision Protection

Sometimes what's true on the slopes is also true in space. Take the need to see, for example. It's just as critical when you're orbiting outside your spacecraft thousands of miles above the earth, as it is when you're zooming down a slippery mountainside. Yet because the human body is a naturally moist surface, goggles clamped to your face can sometimes fog, obstructing your vision.

This is something astronaut Eugene Cernan discovered during the Gemini 9 mission in June 1966. The plan was to have him rotate around Earth outside of his space capsule for two full orbits around the planet. While the jet-powered backpack that allowed him to keep pace with the spacecraft worked, the test run had to be scrapped for another reason: his goggles kept fogging up.


Back on Earth, NASA scientists got busy working on a solution and came up with a compound made from liquid detergent, deionized water and an oil that, while oxygen compatible, was also fire resistant. Since then, the organization has issued more than 60 licenses for the compound, which has been used to keep ski goggles, deep-sea diving masks and vehicle windows crystal clear.

Another way in which NASA scientists have helped sight on the slopes is through technology that was developed in response to the needs of welders and astronauts. Both are in danger of contracting a condition known as arc eye, which results in inflammation of the cornea and retinal damage from exposure to harmful wavelengths of light. Working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1980s, two researchers used information they'd discovered from studying the eyes of birds of prey to create a welding curtain that could eliminate these harmful wavelengths.

The technology led to the formation of a company known as Eagle Eyes that applied the research to a line of sunglasses promising sharper vision, better depth perception and protection from virtually all of the sun's harmful rays. The product was awarded the honor of induction to the Space Foundation's Space Technology Hall of Fame in 2010.