20 Inventions We Use Every Day That Were Actually Created for Space Exploration
Despite sending humans to Earth’s orbit and the moon, the idea of humans surviving in outer space must seem like science fiction.
Creating an environment that can sustain human life in the almost total absence of gravity, as well as no electrical outlets or oxygen, takes a lot of experimentation.
That’s been the job of teams of dedicated scientists who have facilitated some of the most unforgettable moments in space exploration.
24/7 Tempo reviewed dozens of modern products that exist because of advancements in the field of space exploration. We compiled some common items that were invented for use in the race for space.
Unlike modern inventions we no longer use, these inventions are employed daily to save lives, improve environmental sustainability, and keep humans healthy.
Innovations originally designed for space vehicles, including artificial muscle systems, robotic sensors, diamond-joint coatings, and temper foam, make artificial human limbs more functional, durable, comfortable, and life-like.
After NASA developed scratch-resistant astronaut helmets, the agency gave a license to Foster-Grant Corporation to continue experimenting with scratch-resistant plastics, which now comprise most sunglasses and prescription lenses.
Needing to monitor astronauts’ vital signs in space, the Goddard Space Flight Center created monitoring systems that have been adapted to regulate blood sugar levels and release insulin as needed.
The polymers created for use in space suits have been valuable in creating flame-retardant, heat-resistant suits for firefighters.
Newer suits also feature circulating coolant to keep firefighters from succumbing to heat and advanced breathing systems modeled after astronaut life support systems.
During the Apollo moon landings, NASA partnered with Black & Decker to invent various battery-powered tools for drilling and taking rock samples in space. This led to the creation of the ultra-light, compact, cordless DustBuster.
The technology used to track astronauts’ eyes during periods in space in order to assess how humans’ frames of reference are affected by weightlessness has become essential for use during LASIK surgery. The device tracks a patient’s eye positions for the surgeon.
Shock absorbers for buildings
Shock absorbers designed to protect equipment during space shuttle launches are now used to protect bridges and buildings in areas prone to earthquakes.
Out of a need to power space missions, NASA has invented, and consistently improved, photovoltaic cells, sharing the advancements with other companies to accelerate the technology.
In the 1970s, NASA developed filtration systems that utilized iodine and cartridge filters to ensure that astronauts had access to safe, tasteless water. This filtering technology is now standard.
After the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company invented the material used in NASA’s Viking Lander parachute shrouds, the company began using it in its everyday radial tires.
The material is stronger than steel and adds thousands of miles of life to the tires.
Along with two airline pilots who’d invented a prototype of a wireless headset, NASA built a light, hands-free communication system that would allow astronauts to communicate with teams on Earth.
The technology was utilized in the Mercury and Apollo missions.
Adjustable smoke detector
In partnership with the Honeywell Corporation, NASA improved smoke detector technology in the 1970s, creating a unit with adjustable sensitivity to avoid constant false alarms.
After NASA and Ceradyne invented a clear material that could protect radar equipment without blocking the radar’s signal, Unitek Corporation/3M teamed up with Ceradyne, using the material to invent invisible braces.
During long space missions where every ounce of weight and inch of space aboard a shuttle must be maximized, freeze-dried foods have become a staple. Freeze-dried foods are incredibly light, and they retain their nutritional value.
Once reconstituted, they are also easier and more pleasant to eat than former meal sources that were packed into squeeze tubes.
In the 1990s, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory invented a light, miniature imaging system that required little energy in order to take high-quality photographs from space.
This technology has become standard in cell phone and computer cameras.
NASA’s digital signal technology, originally used to recreate images of the moon during the Apollo missions, is the underlying technology that makes CAT scans and MRIs possible.
A nutritious, algae-based vegetable oil invented by NASA scientists who were searching for a recycling agent to use during long space missions is now an additive in many infant formulas. It contains two essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by the human body.
The pyrotechnic mechanism used to detach a space shuttle from its rocket boosters after launch is the same used in Lifeshears, but on a smaller scale. Lifeshears are a tool that can be used in emergency situations to cut into cars or collapsed buildings to rescue people trapped inside.
The requirements for landing space shuttles led NASA scientists to do extensive research on minimizing hydroplaning – when vehicles slide uncontrollably on a wet surface – on runways.
They discovered that cutting grooves into runways helps channel water away from the runway and significantly reduces accidents. Many highways and airports now have grooved pavement.
In the sealed, artificial environment of a spacecraft, attempts to grow plants have led to ethylene buildup. NASA invented an air purifier for the International Space Station that is now used widely on Earth – everywhere from restaurants, to hospitals, to refrigerators – to remove ethylene, which hastens decay, as well as other particulates and pathogens.