Space Invention
that change the world

  • Feb 2021

Memory Foam

Memory foam was first developed by NASA in 1966. The original brief was to make customizable seats for astronauts to alleviate, in part, the effects of G forces during takeoff and landing. Engineers soon realized that the large variability between astronauts physiques could cause a problem. that individual custom-seats might need to be changed for every flight not convenient they find a material that could mold to the astronaut's shape and return to its 'rest' state when not in use - hence the term memory foam.
NASA finally released memory foam into the public domain in the early 1980's.


The humble 'Dustbuster' was originally developed by NASA as part of their Apollo Space Mission. The original remit was to develop some form of portable, self-contained drill that could extract core samples from the surface of the moon.
Black and Decker were approached to develop this tool and they later devised a computer program to help optimize the design. The computer program was used to refine the technology to provide maximal motor power for minimal power consumption. Their research ultimately led to the development of a series of domestic battery-powered hand-held devices. Foremost amongst them was the cordless miniaturized vacuum cleaner now immortalized by its original 1970's brand name the 'Dustbuster'.

Memory Foam

The name is probably a bit of a giveaway but your common and garden 'Space Blanket' (often found in First Aid kits and camping equipment) is indeed the product of NASA research. Space blankets, if you didn't know, are low-weight and low bulk blankets made of heat-reflective thin plastic sheeting.
Their design is perfect for reducing heat loss from the body that would otherwise escape through radiation, water evaporation or convection. The material was, however, originally designed for use on the exterior surfaces of some spacecraft, for much the same purpose.

Nestle's Freeze Drying Process

Freeze drying, though not technically invented by NASA, was mastered by them. NASA required a means of providing nutrition to their astronauts during long-duration Apollo missions. Jacques-Arsène d'Arsonval is widely credited as the inventor of the process in 1906 but was later mastered by Nestle in 1938. After extensive research, they decided to employ and refine a freeze-drying Nestle's technique for space food.
The process involves foods being cooked then quickly frozen. To eat the products were then slowly reheated in a vacuum chamber to remove the ice crystals that form during the freezing process. The technique proved to be highly efficient with close to 100% of the nutritional value being preserved at a fraction of the weight prior to drying. Typically freeze-dried foods are about 20% of the original food weight, though this is dependent on the particular food in question.

Cochlear Implants

Adam Kissiah, a former NASA instrumentation engineer, devised and developed cochlear implants in the mid-1970's. Kissiah was driven to develop the device by his frustration with his own poor hearing. He was also the recipient of three failed corrective surgeries to remedy the problem. His research and development took around 3 years to complete and in 1977 he received a patent for his cochlear implant. Traditional hearing aids of the time simply amplified sounds for the patient, Adam's device worked very differently indeed.
His cochlear implants are able to select speech signal information and convert them into electrical impulses in the patient's ear. It effectively bypasses the patient's natural hearing apparatus to sends electrical impulses to different regions of their auditory nerve to the brain.Since its invention over 320,000 patients lives has been infinitely improved by receiving these corrective implants. These have including patients who have been deaf since birth. Adam was inducted into the Space Foundation's U.S. Space Technology Hall of Fame for his work in 2003..

CMOS Active Pixel Sensors - Selfies

Modern mobile phones and GoPro cameras can partially trace their origins to the work of NASA/JPL scientist Eric Fossum. His work centered around the miniaturization of cameras for interplanetary missions. To achieve this Fossum developed complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors that have now become widespread in the public domain. CMOS generated images tended to suffer from signal noise and other issues.
Fossum's insight was to take advantage charge coupled device (CCD) technology to help improve the quality. This resulted in the creation of CMOS active pixel sensors.This technology has since come to dominate the digital imaging industry. It also effectively paved the way for cameras within smartphones and other devices.

Embedded Web Technology

Embedded Web Technology software, or EWB, was first developed by NASA. It was created to allow astronauts to operate and monitor experiments on the ISS remotely over the internet. NASA later released the technology to the public domain paving the way for the recent explosion in the Internet of Things technology.
Many other companies are also using the same principle to deliver a wide swathe of over-the-internet control and management of devices. Devices like smart thermostat's, smart light bulbs, smart locks and more gadgets have all benefited from the NASA space-age technology.

Infrared Ear Thermometers

NASA collaborated with Diatek Corporation to develop the infrared aural thermometer. This device measures thermal radiation emitted by the patient's eardrum in much the same way the temperature of stars and planets is also measured.
It does this by inferring the temperature based on the thermal (black-body) radiation emitted by an object being measured. Each device consists of a lens to focus infrared thermal energy onto a detector which converts the energy into an electrical signal. This signal is then converted to temperature, after being ambient temperature is compensated, and displayed on the device.
The immediate benefit of this device is that it avoids contact with mucous membranes and can easily be used for measuring temperatures of newborn patients. Today they used in a wide range of applications from monitoring hot spot temperatures in mechanical and electrical systems to checking patient temperatures.