10 Everyday Technologies We Owe to NASA

iStock / iStock

You probably haven't been launched into low-earth orbit or enjoyed a lunar stroll. But believe it or not, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration still plays a huge role in your daily life. Extraterrestrial research presents engineers with all kinds of challenges they’d otherwise never have to face. Consequently, NASA employees have invented, developed, or inspired dozens of gadgets we simply couldn’t do without today.

1. Dustbusters

Ever use one of these handy units while cleaning out your couch? Thank moon rock collectors. To help U.S. astronauts gather samples during their Apollo missions, NASA approached the Maryland-based Black & Decker Company with the task of developing a lightweight, portable drill that came with its own internal power source. Black & Decker then drew upon their own blueprints and adapted the technology to create the indispensable Dustbuster, which was released in 1979. 

2. Swimming Pool Purification Systems

In the 1960s, NASA created an electrolytic silver iodizer to purify their astronauts’ drinking water. Versions of that technology now kill bacteria in recreational pools.

3. Ear Thermometers

The ear thermometer, introduced in the 1990s, made a pediatrician's job much, much easier: Using a sensor that measured infrared energy coming from the ear drum, the device took just a couple of seconds to get an agitated kid's temperature. (Old-fashioned mercury thermometers took at least three minutes to get a temperature reading.) The technology was used by NASA to measure the temperature of stars.

4. Memory Foam

Those infomercial-happy Tempur-Pedic mattresses are the result of an incredible foam NASA developed during the 1970s to help make airline pilots’ seats a tad comfier.

5. The “Jaws of Life”

As one NASA spokesman put it, “Rescue squads have a new extrication tool to help remove accident victims from wrecked vehicles. The hand-held device requires no auxiliary power systems or cumbersome hoses and is 70 percent cheaper than previous rescue equipment. The cutter uses a miniature version of the explosive charges that separate devices on the Space Shuttle.”

6. Household Insulation

Space can feel both bitterly cold and incredibly hot. Realizing this, NASA kept temperatures from getting to extremes on board their Apollo vessels via an aluminized polyester film dubbed “Radiant Barrier.” Today, this material is used in many homes.

7. Scratch-Resistant Lenses

Those with prescription shades or reading specs are likely peering through NASA’s ingenuity every day. In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration dictated that all such glasses must be shatter-resistant. NASA soon created transparent, anti-abrasion coatings for such equipment as astronaut visors, which were made out of easily scratched, shatterproof plastic; the same material now aids millions of needy eyeballs worldwide.

8. Athletic Shoes

Taking “one giant leap for mankind” gets a lot easier thanks to suit construction technology developed by NASA, without which Nike Air sneakers wouldn’t exist (in fact, it was a former NASA engineer who first pitched this quintessential running product to the company).

9. Wireless Head Sets

In a way, NFL coaches bark orders to their quarterbacks with a little help from Wally Schirra, one of the original seven astronauts, who, in 1962, was among the first to use lightweight, cord-free headsets on the job.

10. Space Blankets

The evolution of these shiny garments began with a material NASA used as a lightweight insulator to protect spacecraft, equipment, and personnel in space. Athletes and hikers the world over presently throw them on to ward off potentially disastrous drops in body temperature.