As the world looks back 50 years to the first moon landing in 1969 and those iconic words uttered by Neil Armstrong: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” it is easy to be caught up in the sheer wonder and awe of this incredible Apollo 11 mission. But the stark reality is that sending people into space costs money, and lots of it. At its peak, between 1964 and 1966, NASA’s budget consumed about 4 % of all government spending, with the Apollo program consuming over half of this.
The role of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) today still encompasses sending astronauts into space to conduct scientific research but there is another side to this space agency which is perhaps less known about.
NASA’s Technology Transfer Program is a division of NASA that works with the private sector in developing spinoff technologies that are then turned into commercial products, literally bringing the space age to the consumer. Each year their Spinoff publication features about 50 new products that have evolved from NASA technology.
There are some products that we are all familiar with that have been an off shoot from research undertaken during the space program, including freeze dried foods, memory foam, space blankets, and home insulation using reflective material which protected the spacecraft from radiation.
But there are a whole host of other fascinating inventions that have come about with the aid of NASA scientists. Here are a few of them:
Glasses: Foster Grant were the first to license scratch-resistant sunglasses using technology used to protect space helmet visors from being scratched in space.
Artificial limbs: research into robotics and shock absorption have helped to improve designs for animal and human prostheses.
Swimsuits: Born out of trials carried out in a wind tunnel at Langley Research Centre, Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit actually broke world records in 2008 as it reduced skin friction drag by more than 24% compared to a previous racing swimsuit.
Perhaps little known to the wider public, NASA houses a vast portfolio of patents that are available to access via their patent licensing initiative. This is literally space technology at an inventor’s fingertips. A fledgling company could approach NASA to benefit from its technology, or another enterprise may want to use NASA’s wealth of patents to stay ahead of its competitors.
With categories ranging from aeronautics and communications to optics and robotics there are a whole host of innovations to suit any commercial sector.
In the aeronautical field for example NASA researchers have pioneered a biomimicking acoustic liner for reducing aircraft noise and other innovators have been experimenting with new wing designs to improve aircraft efficiency and reduce drag.
In the health sector for example there is an invention that has numerous applications: NASA has developed an electroactive material for wound healing that speeds up the healing process whilst minimizing infection – this technology can be used for patients in hospital who have undergone surgery, or for wounded military personnel or even astronauts in space.
So next time you happen to glimpse a snippet of news about the latest discovery in space spare a thought for those scientists at NASA who work tirelessly every day to turn the space technology of the future into the ground-breaking discoveries we all can benefit from back here on our little planet earth!
But as a last thought, interestingly, NASA did not have anything to do with the creation of Teflon or Velcro as is commonly thought!