Spacesuits designed by NASA for Apollo astronauts used heating elements to protect astronauts from extreme cold. Some of this same technology has been incorporated into a heated vest marketed by the Australian company Jett. It includes rechargeable lithium polymer batteries and flexible heating coils. The garment can keep you toasty at very cold temperatures [source: Jett].
Similar technology has been applied to heated gloves and boots. They include an open mesh fabric with heating elements that use chemically etched foil circuits. The heater circuit is similar to one used in the Apollo command module [source: Ruzic].
A Thermos vacuum bottle keeps your coffee hot for hours. Imagine millions of microscopic vacuum containers applied to a building. NASA scientists developed ceramic microspheres as insulators. Each tiny ball contains a vacuum. These durable ceramic cenospheres, can be mixed with paint. When they coat the inside walls of a house, they keep heat from escaping. Painted on outside walls, they ward off heat, keeping a structure cooler in summer. The paints have been used to insulate mobile homes and recreational vehicles [source: Intermodal].
Another high-tech insulator incorporates microencapsulated phase-change materials. These are also microscopic balls, but they're filled with chemicals that change phase -- that is, go from solid to liquid and back -- depending on temperature. NASA researchers developed them for use in astronaut glove liners. When a person's body temperature rises, the material absorbs the heat. When it drops, the material gives off the heat, providing warmth [source: NASA Scientific Covered].
The capsules are small enough that they can be built into the fibers of so-called "smart" clothing. Used in socks, gloves or hats, the fabrics not only insulate, they actually respond to the person's body, supplying or absorbing heat when it's needed. The fabrics are also useful in mattress pads, where they buffer normal temperature swings, helping a person to sleep more soundly.
Another high-tech warming material developed by NASA is aerogel. This extremely low-density silicon-based foam is great at stopping heat transfer. The space agency is using it to collect dust from comets. On earth it's been built into race cars for heat insulation. It may also be used to make better refrigerators with much thinner walls and more room inside for food. It could one day become a super-efficient home insulation [sources: NASA Facts, NASA Catching].
These are just some of the ways that overcoming the temperature extremes of space has paid off. Read on for more information about NASA warmth technology.
- Intermodal Steel Buildings. "All About NASA Related Ceramic Insulation Coatings." (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.isbu-info.org/all_about_ceramic_insulation.htm
- Jett. "Heated Vest." (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.jett.us.com/heat_vest_complete.htm
- NASA. "Catching Comet Dust With Aerogel." (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stardust/spacecraft/aerogel-index.html
- NASA. "What is the Temperature of Space?" (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/379068main_Temperature_of_Space.pdf
- NASA Scientific & Technical Information. "Reflecting on Space Benefits: A Shining Example," Spinoff, 2006. (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2006/ch_9.html
- NASA Scientific & Technical Information. "Covered in Comfort," Spinoff 2004. (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.nasatech.com/spinoff/Spinoff2004/ch_1.html
- O'Rangers, Eleanor A. "NASA Spin-offs: Bringing Space Down to Earth," Space.com, January 26, 2005. (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.space.com/731-nasa-spin-offs-bringing-space-earth.html
- Ruzic, Neil. P. "Warm Hands and Feet," NASA Spinoff 1976. (accessed March 17, 2011)http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/back_issues_archives/1976.pdf