6 tech innovations you never knew came from NASA
Over the last 60 years and counting, America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, has developed some incredible technology. You’ll no doubt be familiar with their most famous innovations, like the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, the Hubble Telescope and Mars Rover. But did you know that NASA boffins have played a hand in many other technological breakthroughs that we now use in our everyday lives?
NASA has been advancing technology to new heights (quite literally!) for over 60 years. Over the decades, their most mind-blowing achievements, chief among them sending man to the moon, have quite rightly scooped the lion’s share of headlines and public interest. However, what you might not realise is that there’s plenty of NASA technology we use every day.
Here are six NASA technology spinoffs that have crossed over into everyday life.
1. CMOS camera sensors
Next time you’re posing for a selfie, take a moment to marvel at the fact that your smartphone shares the same technology as the cameras astronauts use to take pictures of the Earth from space. Pretty cool, huh?! In the 1990s, NASA invented a new kind of sensor, using a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS). This small, low power, and highly efficient sensor proved equally useful for space missions as it did here on Earth. CMOS technology is now ubiquitous, enabling mobile phones, high-definition video, and social media as we know it.
2. Air purifiers
Air pollution is often seen as an outdoor problem, something for city dwelling inhabitants to worry about every time they step outside. However, you might be surprised to hear that the air inside our homes can actually be even more contaminated with volatile organic compounds, bacteria, and other harmful pollutants. It turns out that NASA’s research into helping plants to thrive in space worked incredibly well at purifying air of all those nasty toxins. So much so, that it was adapted into plug-in filters that keep the air you breathe cleaner and healthier.
3. Speedo swimsuits
NASA knows a thing or two about reducing pressure and viscous drag – the force of friction that slows down a moving object through air or water. When Speedo were developing their infamous LZR Racer swimsuit, they called on NASA to perform surface drag testing and provide their significant expertise in fluid dynamics. The LZR Racer was launched at the 2008 Olympics, where 98% of medals won and 23 out of 25 new world records were achieved by athletes wearing the body-length suit. It was duly banned the following year.
4. Food safety
When glass shards were found in baby cereal back in 1971, food manufacturer Pillsbury had to radically rethink the safety controls for its food production. As part of a joint effort between NASA, government agencies and private businesses, a former NASA research scientist used his know-how about how to keep food stable and safe for astronauts long after its production to develop a process called “Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point”, which is now standard food safety practice in the United States.
5. Cordless power tools
Okay, so NASA didn’t directly invent cordless power tools. But, in the lead up to the Apollo program, it quickly realised that it needed tools that could work in space (and on the moon!) without electricity. So NASA teamed up with Black & Decker to develop battery-powered tools that wouldn’t work against the astronaut. In other words, they wouldn’t spin the astronaut in the opposite direction in which they were turning a bolt. Their joint efforts led to the development of useful tools for astronauts and DIY enthusiasts alike.
Although the Global Positioning System (GPS), or NAVSTAR GPS as it was originally known, was devised and overseen by the U.S. Department of Defence for military purposes, NASA technology has helped fuel some interesting uses for the technology. Perhaps none more so than agricultural manufacturer John Deere’s StarFire GPS receivers. These used NASA’s global network of ground stations and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) software to enable self-guided tractors. Accurate GPS helps farmers manage their fields, enabling more accurate observations and crop mapping.
For more information about how NASA research benefits us in our everyday lives, visit the NASA Spinoff website.
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