As the space shuttles make their victory laps around the country on the way to various museums, it's a good time to reflect on the tech that they and other NASA projects have contributed to our daily lives since the agency began in 1958. Here are a few surprising examples of what NASA has given us.
NASA gave us a mattress that remembers the shape of our bodies. The polyurethane foam was originally created in 1966 at the Ames Research Center to cushion rocket and shuttle seats, but now can be found today in footwear, mattresses and pillows.
NASA partnered with Black & Decker to create a battery-operated drill for use on its 1969 Apollo moon mission. This portable technology eventually was made available to consumers in 1979, and the cordless mini-vacuum known as the Dustbuster became the must-have appliance of the 1980s.
Developed by NASA in the 1950s to protect spacecraft from the sun, biaxially oriented polyethylene terephthalate, aka Mylar, is an aluminum-coated plastic material that traps and reflects heat. Employed on every manned space flight, thousands of satellites and the Hubble telescope, the technology is also used in balloon bouquets, kites, home insulation and confetti.
If your sunglasses are made of super-fashionable titanium alloy, chances are NASA was responsible for creating them. Dr. Keith Manuel, NASA's official optometrist for the space shuttle crew in 1989, developed a titanium alloy frame without pesky hinge screws, which could fall out. The technology is now used in more than 40 styles of commercial sunglasses.
No, NASA did not create a faster-than-light propulsion system. Warfighter Accelerated Recovery by Photobiomodulation (aka WARP-10) is instead a high-intensity light-emitting diode chip originally developed to help grow plants on the space shuttle and the International Space Station. The LED chips are now used in a portable medical device that gives patients temporary relief of minor muscle and joint pain. Initially used for soldiers needing first aid, the technology is now available to the public.