We have NASA to thank for many modern-day conveniences and improvements to our lives. Our water is purified, home insulation improved, highways safer and tires more durable, to name a few. In addition to driving exploration of the moon and Mars, NASA technology provides solutions on Earth. This mandate dates to NASA’s beginnings. President Eisenhower believed space technology should be shared with the tax-paying public and re-purposed for real life.
- The computer mouse. This little tool has supported navigation in computing since its introduction in 1968, known as the Mother of all Demos because it changed the course of history and the way we use computers. Its inventor, Doug Engelbart, was a pioneer who was among the first to envision that we’d use hardware – such as keyboards, displays, and mice – that would allow people with common goals to share information. With that, computers advanced from computational usage to communication. It’s believed the mouse was named – by its inventor – because of its size and its tail-like cord.
- Memory foam. Thank you, NASA! Astronauts needed a comfortable ride and a little cushion for crash landings. I mean, if you’re going to be sleeping on the moon, bring a decent pillow! Developed in the 1970s, we earthlings now get to sleep like astronauts.
- Invisalign. Invisible braces are said to be the best-selling orthodontics of all time. The translucent ceramic was created for use in tracking heat-seeking missiles. NASA needed a material that would both protect radar equipment and allow radio waves to penetrate. Who knew the space gear behind your beautiful smile also protects our nation?!
- Precision GPS. Do you remember navigation before GPS? Stacks of paper maps crammed in the glove box and (hopefully) a passenger to assist. Eventually, we had MapQuest to print up directions. And NOW? Okay, Google, navigate to Starbucks. If the location on your phone is enabled, you don’t even need to suggest a city. You’ll get all the options nearest you.
- Scratch resistant UV Protection Eyewear. There’s a lot of debris and dust in space so NASA developed a special coating to protect visors on helmets and other equipment with plastic surfaces. If you’re like me, the ratio of cost is in direct proportion to lost sunglasses. I don’t buy RayBans, but thanks to NASA even a $10 pair has some cutting-edge technology.
- Freeze Dried food & Safe Packaging. John Glenn, the first American astronaut in space is said to have eaten applesauce packaged in toothpaste-like tubes. Granted, he was only out there for about 5 hours (3 orbits of the Earth) so probably a small snack was sufficient. During the Mercury missions (1958-63), the menu grew to include bite-size cubes and freeze-dried powders. Complaints ensued and, by the time the Gemini missions (1964-66) rolled around, improved packaging of freeze-dried foods made reconstituting easier and foods more appetizing.
- Baby Formula. In a search for healthy food initiatives to accompany life on Mars, NASA was searching for plant-based food that contained little water and was light in weight. While studying algae they came across a nutrient only previously known to be in human breast milk – an Omega 3 / Omega 6 Fatty Acid combination. NASA was able to synthesize it, reproduce it, and now we have it in our olive oil, eggs, peanut butter and baby formula. The combination is important to the development of fatty tissue in the eyes and brain.
- Cochlear Implants. In 1970 Adam Kissiah, a hearing-impaired engineer at the Kennedy Space center used his NASA experience in electronic sound and vibration sensor systems to develop an implant that worked by electric impulses rather than sound. Today, over 350,000 people have these implants and the number is growing. The experience of hearing for the first time prompts a highly emotive response that can be shared by viewers of You Tube videos such as THIS.
- Other Medical Advancements. These include improved imaging in MRIs, CT and CAT, programmable pacemakers, prosthetics, insulin and cardiac pumps. The technology is not always invented by NASA, but enhancements by NASA provides the benefit.
- Ear Thermometer. Out with the old Mercury thermometers, and in with the new! This improvement in accuracy (and comfort) was developed using NASA’s infrared technology which measures the temperature of stars!
- My FAVORITE! An Apollo-era partnership with Black & Decker to build battery-operated tools for moon exploration and sample collection gave us…. the DUST BUSTER!
For more examples of NASA technology in your daily life, visit the NASA Spinoff Publication.
Technology is not the only spinoff from NASA. A management style constructed by George Meuller, who led NASA’s Human Space Flight Program from 1963-69, has served equally well in the private sector. Meuller understood that to accomplish the extraordinary goals of the time, re-organization and calculated risk were essential. He established a flat organization allowing engineers direct access and communication to decision-makers to speed up progress. In addition, he cultivated trust in the visionary ideas of lower-level employees. The average age of mission control was 26. Meuller’s is a management style adopted by many Silicon startups which hire the young and think outside the box.
The leaps and bounds to our ease of living are advantageous but technology can be a double-edged sword. That is, when science gets ahead of us and we need to defend against our own design. On the next INTRIGUE JOURNAL…