6 Everyday Things You Probably Didn’t Know Came from NASA’s Labs
NASA is known for putting astronauts on the moon and launching space shuttles into orbit. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has a history of innovation that doesn’t stop at space exploration. We’ve rounded up six everyday things that you might not know originated in NASA’s labs.
Have you ever wondered how camera phones became a thing? You can thank NASA for that. Eric Fossum, an engineer who worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), invented a camera in the early 1990s that was lightweight and produced high-quality images. NASA was looking to miniaturize cameras for interplanetary spacecraft, so Fossum’s solution – the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor Active Pixel Sensor (CMOS-APS) – was the perfect fit. As cell phone cameras started to become popular in the mid-2000s, Fossum’s invention was already available and quickly integrated into cell phone designs. The rest is history.
The Dust Buster
Black and Decker had the concept of a battery-powered tool in 1961, but it was NASA who helped create the technology we have today. During the Apollo missions, NASA needed a portable drill that could extract core samples from below the lunar surface. They worked with Black and Decker to develop a computer program that optimized the design of the drill’s motor to create the most efficient use of power. The computer program ultimately led to the creation of the portable vacuum cleaner we now know as the Dustbuster.
NASA has continuously funded research into prosthetic limbs, leading to some of the most advanced artificial limbs ever conceived. The agency works with private-sector companies to develop innovations such as robotics and shock-absorptive materials. NASA is also behind the creation of artificial muscle systems and functionally dynamic prostheses with robotic sensing. The advancements in this field have revolutionized the world of prosthetics, giving amputees more control and capabilities than ever before.
NASA has taken on the challenge of improving transportation safety in many different ways. One of their most significant achievements is the creation of grooved pavement on runways and interstate highways that improves airplane tire friction performance on wet runways by as much as 300%. These grooves also decrease highway accidents caused by slippery conditions by 85%. By focusing on technical improvements like these, NASA has made a real difference in our daily lives.
NASA designed memory foam in the 1970s for aircraft seats to absorb the impact during landings and improve crash protection for commercial airplane passengers. The open-cell polyurethane-silicon material also gave space shuttle astronauts a comfortable cushion to sit on during lift-off. Now, memory foam is used in products ranging from mattresses and pillows to sports safety equipment and human and animal prostheses. It’s even used in race car seats to provide additional safety for drivers.
The single-crystal silicon solar cells used in solar panels today were created by a 28-member coalition led by NASA in the late 1980s. The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology Alliance was formed to create solar power sources. The goal was to build a remotely piloted aircraft that would fly unmanned missions at high altitudes for days at a time using a power source that didn’t add weight to the craft. The result was a technology that delivers improved energy at a lower cost and reduces pollution for everyone.
NASA created special filters in the 1970s to ensure that their astronauts had safe drinking water while in space. Working with the Umpqua Research Company, they designed filter cartridges that used iodine to clean water supplies from the space shuttles. Today, the Microbial Check Valve filter is an important part of cleaning water for municipal water plants. NASA is currently working on creating units that are even more efficient at recycling human waste into safe and drinkable water resources.
In conclusion, NASA’s work extends far beyond space exploration. The agency has produced several groundbreaking inventions that have become part of our daily lives. From camera phones to solar panels, their innovations have changed the way we live, work, and play. Next time you use one of these everyday items, take a moment to thank NASA for their contributions to science and technology.