10 brilliant NASA inventions that are widely used in everyday life

By SSPDaily editionMar 2, 2024 20:05 PMTech
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10 brilliant NASA inventions
10 brilliant NASA inventions. Source: www.space.com

In the history of NASA, there are many inventions that were created for space flight and evolved into useful tools for everyday life. And the opportunities for such remarkable transformations are made possible by the NASA Technology Transfer Program - NTTP. It includes free computer programs and links to how businesses can license "space" technologies for commercial use. This was reported by SSPDaily.

Thus, the Slash Gear website writes: "Technology transfer is an important part of NASA's mission, and Spinoff magazine, published by the agency for decades, annually features space technologies that have been adapted for use on Earth." Here's a small selection of these innovations that are in wide use today.

Portable drill

When the Apollo program was launched in 1961, dozens of projects were launched in parallel to solve problems related to everyday tasks, such as vehicle maintenance in space. For example, tool manufacturer Black+Decker, in collaboration with NASA, created a wireless zero-impact wrench that could turn bolts without turning the user in zero gravity.

As the patent holder for the portable electric drill since 1917, Black+Decker was ideally suited to solve another scientific challenge. During the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions, special tools were needed to collect samples of lunar rock and soil from the depths. Specifically, they needed a lightweight, compact, portable drill that could be charged from an onboard power source.

Black + Decker worked with NASA to create a drill that meets all of these requirements and allows for the extraction of samples from up to 10 feet below the lunar surface. The result of this collaboration today is the Dust Buster drill, which uses the best practices gained in the development of the lunar drill's engine design.

Cameras for mobile phones

Obtaining high-quality images from spacecraft is a technically challenging task. To solve it, in the 80s, NASA used charge-coupled device imaging technology, which later became the basis for digital cameras.

The CCD technology was improved by engineer Eric Fossum, who worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Fossum was considered an expert in the field of CCD systems, and his work to improve the high power consumption and charge transfer efficiency led to the creation of an entirely new imaging technology.

This development, called the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) sensor, was licensed to Kodak, Intel, and AT&T. where small cameras with the low power consumption that was characteristic of CMOS sensors were needed.

Blankets for emergency situations

People and equipment operating at low temperatures require special protection. Aluminized mylar, the shiny foil we see on many spacecraft and spacesuits, is an incredibly thin and lightweight material, making it ideal for space travel. Its shiny side reflects heat or traps it inside, so these sheets can also be used for insulation.

On Earth, these blankets are often used by athletes, tourists, and doctors. Thin plastic with a metal coating retains body heat and at the same time prevents the wind from cooling the surface of the skin, essentially warming the person due to the heat that their body actively gives off.

Improved tires and roads

The need to work in harsh lunar conditions led to improvements in the tires installed by NASA on a portable machine called the Riksha on the Apollo 14 mission. In the '60s and '70s, tires designed for summer use lost traction and flexibility in the winter.

Goodyear Tire worked with NASA to develop a tire that remained flexible and durable at low temperatures. The result was a tire that did not lose flexibility at temperatures as low as 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Later, Goodyear used these developments to create non-studded winter tires for conventional cars.

Another "by-product" of cooperation with NASA was the corrugation technology, which was used on Earth in the construction of roads and runways to drain water from the roadway more efficiently.

By the way, tire pressure sensors, which are mandatory for all passenger cars today, are a direct result of the improvement of space shuttle tires.

LEDs

The issue of growing plants in space has always been of concern to scientists. After all, it is both a source of food and an improvement in the air quality on the spacecraft. When NASA considered the lighting systems needed to support plant life in airless space, factors such as light weight, low power consumption, heat generation, ability to withstand sudden temperature changes, the ability to emit light of different colors, and impact resistance were of paramount importance. LED technology solved all these problems.

NASA has produced a prototype of a solid-state LED lighting module. It met numerous spaceflight requirements and had the ability to be remotely controlled, allowing ground control services to regulate and monitor the needs of plants and people aboard spacecraft.

By 2008, a full-fledged LED system was installed on the International Space Station. The lighting proved to be useful for astronauts as well. In the process of developing a plant light, another group of NASA-funded researchers found that certain colors of light contribute to the astronauts' sleep cycle.

The repeated sunrises and sunsets that space travelers see over the course of 24 hours affect circadian rhythms. And the ability to help these people by adjusting the level and color of light has become an important additional benefit when implementing LED systems.

Wireless headsets

The development of a lightweight headset for communication devices at NASA led to the creation of a system that was adopted by United Airlines and became the basis of Plantronics.

Around this time, NASA faced a serious problem: during the recovery phase of the 1961 Mercury-Redstone 4 mission, communication with one of the astronauts was lost. Eventually, he was found, but the very possibility of a tragedy forced scientists to reconsider the existing communication systems. And the company they used used a Plantronics headset in its radio transmitter

Plantronics went on to win awards for its Bluetooth headsets and develop hands-free communication systems for businesses, homes, emergency responders, and even the Xbox game app.

Solar cells

Solar energy has always been a focus of NASA's attention when considering power supply: after all, what better source of energy in space? Over the years, solar energy harvesting and storage have been greatly improved, and NASA research has contributed to many of these advances.

Although solar cells were not invented by NASA - the credit goes to scientists at Bell Laboratories in 1954 - the need to create and store energy in space has forced the agency to work hard in this area.

For example, the International Space Station has eight 114-foot-long solar array wings, each with about 33,000 solar cells. Despite their mass, only about 14% of the sunlight that hits these panels is converted into useful energy. However, this technology is several years outdated.

Today, solar cells can be made cheaper, thinner, and even turned into flexible sheets that can capture up to 90% of the sunlight that hits them. You can even buy this version of the device to charge your phone. And as researchers learn more and more, solar technology continues to break new ground.

Portable computers

Another NASA invention that has become widespread is the laptop computer. This idea of adapting communication means in space originated in the early 80s.

The GRiD Compass model, which had a starting price of more than $8000 at the time, was not available to ordinary users, but it attracted the attention of NASA. Mainly because of the plasma screen, which made the Compass lighter than similar products that used heavy CRT screens.

The solid-state memory, which is more durable than a hard disk and has no moving parts, was also attractive.

To send the Compass into space, NASA needed a minimum of modifications - to install a new shuttle-compatible power cable and use a fan-based cooling system.

And the main improvement of the NASA GRiD Compass was the software that turned the device into a portable power plant.

When the modified GRiD, called the Shuttle Portable On-board Computer (SPOC), went into space aboard Columbia in 1983, it was equipped with a graphical positioning program used to take photographs, as well as a backup program to return to space as an emergency.

Joystick

During the development of the Apollo lunar rover, the need to operate the vehicle in a space suit required NASA to innovate, resulting in the installation of a one-handed joystick that allows for steering, braking, and acceleration.

While NASA did not invent the joystick, its design innovations are evident in everything from video game controls to systems that allow disabled drivers to drive without a steering wheel.

Although it has undergone significant changes since the days of input, the humble joystick remains an integral part of modern game console controllers and space suits themselves.

Memory foam

One of the main difficulties in sending a manned crew was related to the chair. After all, this device, with an astronaut sitting in it, must withstand incredible pressure and shock loads.

Fortunately, NASA managed to develop a solution that the agency considers its most famous and widely used product.

The Temper memory foam, which absorbs energy while maintaining softness, was created in 1966 by an aeronautical engineer Charles Yost, commissioned by NASA. Yost had previously worked with NASA on the development of cargo evacuation equipment for the Apollo program, and was now asked to improve the design of aircraft seats to protect them from collisions and strong vibration during takeoff as part of the space shuttle program.

After selling the initial rights to the technology, Yost created Dynamic Systems, which has further developed the technology and found dozens of applications for it.

While Tempur-Pedic mattresses and pillows are the most popular use of this foam today, it is also used for motorcycle seats, medical cushions, prosthetic limbs, helmets, and archery targets.

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