Throughout NASA’s long and industrious history, the space agency’s cutting-edge technologies have been adopted or adapted to suit various needs on Earth.
For instance, the ear thermometer sitting in your medicine cabinet relies on the same infrared technology used by NASA to measure the temperature of stars. The memory foam in your pillow and mattress was initially developed by NASA to absorb shock in airplane seats.
NASA technology has even found widespread use outside the home in anti-corrosion coatings, firefighting equipment, highway safety grooves and the video-enhancing and analysis systems used in law enforcement and security.
Many of these technology transfers are well-known, but numerous others slide in under the radar. Here are 10 recent examples of how NASA research is benefiting the rest of us.
1. Cabin pressure monitor
Warning systems for aircraft cabin depressurization sometimes fail to monitor pressure changes that cause a slow, inconspicuous development of hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency, which can lead to unconsciousness. Based on NASA pressure-monitoring technology, Alt Alert is a compact altitude pressurization monitoring system that acutely tracks aircraft cabin pressure. Great for private and recreational pilots. aviationtechnologyinc.com
2. Advanced skin cream
Using a rotating vessel-wall bioreactor (which replicates microgravity conditions experienced in Earth’s orbit), NASA scientists have produced regenerative biomolecules from adult skin cells. The molecules have quickly found a use in advanced reparative skin-care products. A new cream from Rejuvel Bio-Sciences uses them to increase skin moisture and elasticity while reducing wrinkles and dark blemishes. rejuvel.com
3. Sleep-enhancing app
NASA-funded research has found that the body’s balance-regulating vestibular system induces sleep when subjected to low-amplitude vibration (similar to rocking a baby). With this in mind, the mobile app Sleep Genius works with a stereo system or sleep-safe headphones to help the user fall asleep easier — and sleep better throughout the night — by stimulating the vestibular system with specially designed audio tracks. sleepgenius.com
4. More efficient workouts
NASA’s airtight spacesuits use liquid-cooling technology to protect astronauts from heat and humidity. Using this technology, Vasper Systems now makes compression exercise cuffs that improve exercise efficiency and reduce sweat and post-workout aches and fatigue. A specialized workout routine produces similar physiological results as exercises that last more than twice as long. vasper.com
5. UV tracker
The UVA+B SunFriend is a wearable device that monitors UV exposure, helping you get enough UV light to stimulate vitamin D production without damaging your skin. The device is made possible thanks to wide-bandgap semiconductors. NASA developed the semiconductors as a way to measure extreme UV radiation that could send its Solar Dynamics Observatory careening into Earth. sunfriend.com
6. 3-D video for brain surgery
Surgeons working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed the first brain surgery endoscope — a tiny, lit, tubelike instrument with an attached camera — that’s capable of not only steering its lens, but also producing 3-D video images. In addition to improving surgical visibility for safer, faster and cheaper procedures, the new device may someday allow NASA to obtain 3-D views of otherworldly geological features.
7. Earthquake protection
NASA’s defunct Space Shuttle program utilized fluidics-based shock absorbers to safely remove the fuel and electrical “umbilicals” from spacecraft during launch. The technology behind these powerful tools is now used to absorb seismic energy, protecting buildings and bridges from earthquakes. None of the more than 550 structures outfitted with the fluidics-based seismic dampers has suffered from quake-related damage.
8. Custom 3-D printing
Soon to be installed on the International Space Station, a new, highly precise and rugged 3-D printer will be able to produce about 30 percent of the station’s small parts and tools, as well as miniaturized research satellites (nanosatellites). Though it’s the first 3-D printer able to work in microgravity, the NASA-funded device may also find use in submarines, deserts and other remote areas here on Earth.
9. Noise dampeners
Comet EnFlow, a new NASA-funded statistical model, accurately predicts how high- and low-frequency vibrations travel in and around structures. Automobile and aircraft manufacturers currently employ the technology. It even comes in handy on the International Space Station’s U.S. Destiny Laboratory, where it’s used to detect leaks that produce inaudible ultrasonic sounds.
10. Better speakers
Sony swapped the blowout-preventing dampers in its slim speakers and SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth wireless mobile speakers with ferrofluids, which are fluids magnetized with fine particles of iron oxide. The chemical allows speakers to increase sound amplitude while reducing distortion. The technology, born decades ago at NASA, originally moved fuel into spacecraft engines without the aid of gravity. Solid rocket propulsion later replaced it.
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