11 NASA Technologies We Use Every Day
The Apollo missions were not only impressive for the fact that, you know, we succeeded in putting a man on the moon, but also because the push to reach it kickstarted a prolific era of innovation. It hasn’t yet come to a halt as we continue to reap the benefits of the groundbreaking technology and advanced materials necessary for man’s most audacious endeavors.
To put things into perspective, we've rounded up 11 everyday items that were originally developed by NASA and its allies to help us explore the great beyond. Chances are, you've used one or more of these in the last week. Let the games begin.
Ever wonder how it is that your five-year-old Ray-Bans haven’t been scratched to all hell, considering what you’ve put them through? Thank big brother NASA, who in their never-ending quest for defense against the ravages of our atmosphere and beyond, developed a technique called "direct ion deposition" that creates a thin, ultra-protective layer of diamond-like carbon. So that the ground-bound can also take advantage of the science, the masterful technique has now been licensed out to sunglasses companies.
To prompt solar panels on satellites to deploy outward once in orbit, NASA built them using a durable metal alloy known as nitinol, which is defined by its ability to spring back to shape -- after bending -- once warmed up. These days, orthodontists regularly use braces with nitinol wire to ensure they hold their shape in the intense warmth of patients’ mouths.
Your outrageously comfortable "viscoelastic polyurethane foam" slumber pod exists solely because NASA needed a way to keep astronauts from bouncing around like crash-test dummies while strapped into the return capsules and shuttles.
That novelty astronaut ice cream you just had to buy on a field trip to the science museum? Yeah, that was actually a pretty big deal. Since it was crucial to keep a mission's weight down, NASA devised a way to keep the astronauts stocked with food via freeze-dried meals, which retain 98% of their original nutritional value and only 20% of their original weight. Think about that next time you pour a bowl of Lucky Charms.
The fact that there are computers small enough to fit in our pockets is a testament to the circuitry developed for the Apollo missions' complex onboard navigation systems. The microchip as we know it today evolved out of the first working integrated circuit, which Texas Instruments developed specifically for the Department of Defense and NASA. Now you know who to blame for your crippling Candy Crush addiction.
Your freedom to hang shelving and, frankly, anything you damn well please in the middle of nowhere is due in no small part to the advancements made by Black & Decker in the early ‘60s at the behest of NASA. They needed tools that astronauts could easily use to obtain samples of moon rock and soil, so the B&D team came up with a then-revolutionary set of battery-powered drills and vacuums.
While researching algae in hopes that they could locate one that would generate oxygen in space through photosynthesis, NASA discovered that a particular kind contains essential fatty acids found in breast milk. To this day, a synthetic version of the algae is used as a supplement in baby food all over the world.
Fighting forest fires
Thanks to some of NASA's advanced, infrared-aided fire-detection technology, authorities are now able to spot outbreaks of forest fires well before they get big enough to be seen from the ground. It also helps firefighters pinpoint their exact locations, thus cutting down on precious time wasted trying to locate 'em.
Anyone concerned with preserving history’s masterpieces owes NASA for developing a particular set of strong and heat-resistant polymers, which have been tested by renowned crews of art experts for their ability to protect pieces -- specifically statues -- from corrosion.
Jaws of life
God willing, you'll never need to experience them first-hand, but the powerful, heat-treated steel and aluminum alloy shears used to pry people from wrecked vehicles and other emergency situations exist thanks to a system of "pyrotechnically actuated" cartridges, which were originally developed -- on a smaller scale -- to separate shuttles from their booster rockets.
This clear thermoplastic that's used in basically everything
After LEXAN, a polycarbonate developed by GE, was used to create the lunar astronauts' visors, it kind of... took off. In the ‘70s, it was used for Jeep removable roofs; in the ‘80s, it made its way into automotive instrument panels, compact discs, and pathways in the Houston Zoo; in the ‘90s, it made DVDs and relatively tiny Motorola phones possible; and in the 2000s, LEXAN SLX was developed as a next-level, scratch-resistant coating for automotive panels. The stuff even coated the most innovative vehicle since the Space Shuttle: the Segway.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. He wishes NASA had developed a way to make his years in braces less terrible.