Five NASA inventions on Earth (and five it wrongly gets credit for)

The law of unintended consequences doesn’t always have to be bad. Plenty of NASA’s inventions weren’t intended for use on Earth, but plenty of its tech has found a home in our own atmosphere.

Five NASA inventions on Earth (and five it wrongly gets credit for)

NASA even has an annual publication, Spinoff, which documents all the inventions heading out of space and into homes and businesses. As the official NASA Spinoff site states, there have been almost 1,800 of these since 2012.

Here are five of the most memorable, and five that – despite popular belief – are not NASA’s handiwork.

Five NASA inventions

Freeze-dried foodastronaut_ice_cream

Originally a technique used during World War II for blood serum and coffee (not together, mercifully), freeze-drying really grabbed the public attention when it was transferred to foods, such as the astronaut ice cream pictured above.

Although it’s hard to imagine wanting to eat it on Earth (I’ve tried it and it has all the taste, but none of the texture, of real ice cream), it was a godsend for astronauts – 20% of the food’s original weight, with nearly all of its nutritional value.

Memory foammemory_foam

There are few things nicer than lying on a memory foam mattress – even a huge pile of money can’t compare (especially if you’ve won it on slot machines).

Memory foam is amazing: it moulds to the body and softens under heat, making a bed you want to stay in forever. Not that this was its original purpose. For NASA, “Temper Foam” (its original name) was designed to make safer aircraft cushions.

Space blanketsspace_blanket

NASA is hardly trying to hide its fingerprints with the name “space blanket”, although you may also know it by “Mylar blanket” or “emergency blanket”. It’s a layer of thin heat-reflective plastic sheeting, designed to reduce heat loss. Like freeze-dried food, it was designed to take up as little weight as possible.

It was developed in 1964 for the US space programme to offer protection from temperatures spanning -260˚C to over 480˚C, while also being resistant to ultraviolet radiation.

Scratch-resistant lensesscratch_resistant_glasses

In 1972, the US Food and Drug Administration banned the use of glass in lenses, which made sense: if you were wearing glasses and they shattered, it was obvious where the fragments would end up.

But the problem was that they were replaced with plastic, which is extremely easy to scratch. Fortunately, technology used by NASA scientists on space helmet visors and equipment came down to Earth in 1983, courtesy of sunglasses manufacturer Foster Grant. The tech is now in almost all eyewear, so you have NASA to thank for your crystal-clear vision.

Drastically improved artificial limbsartificial_limb

Not only are artificial limbs now mechanically better, thanks to various NASA innovations in shock absorption and robotics, they also have the option of looking more flesh-like too – with a little help from the “Temper Foam” technology mentioned above.

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