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  • Writer's pictureMina Phillips

11 Surprising NASA Inventions That Could Change The Way You Live

Article by Mina Phillips

When you think of NASA, the first images that come to mind are probably astronauts and space missions. But did you know that many of the everyday inventions we rely on here on Earth are thanks to NASA? Keep reading to learn about how some of NASA’s recent inventions could help to improve your quality of life in unexpected ways.

1. The advanced thermal mug

Sick of burning yourself on too-hot drinks? Tired of going in for a long-awaited sip from your coffee mug on a winter’s morning only to be disappointed by an icy beverage? Fret no more - there’s now an on-the-go mug that can both cool down your coffee in seconds and keep it warm for hours! How, you may ask? NASA-funded research carried out by the University of Missouri led to the creation of the “Burnout Mug”, a thermo mug specially designed to cool down hot drinks and keep them from getting too cold. What started as a research project aimed at upgrading the cooling systems in astronaut space suits got picked up by a University of Missouri professor who had a habit of disappointing himself with cold coffee - much to the benefit of us all.

The mug was released in 2018 and pairs vacuum seal insulation with “HeatZorb” - a bio-wax used to manage temperatures within astronaut spacesuits. This wax works to absorb excess heat so that hot drinks are quickly cooled, and also releases this heat back into the drink as it cools - keeping it at an ideal drinking temperature.

2. The 30-minute pet treatment

Have a sick pet? You can now test and treat them in under thirty minutes thanks to NASA technology. A tool originally created to monitor astronaut health has been developed into the “VetScan Chemistry Analyzer” - a machine that can provide animal test results in under 15 minutes! NASA reports that it’s small, affordable, and only takes two drops of blood to potentially save your pet’s life. 

It doesn’t just apply to domestic animals either - NASA Spinoff notes that the test can even be applied to exotic animals. The analyzer produces a thorough list of test results and, in doing so, saves pet owners time, money, and stress. No need for follow-up visits, fretting about pre-existing conditions that could impact your pet’s surgery results, or waiting weeks to find out what’s wrong with your fur baby - you can be up-to-date on your pet’s health after one simple vet visit. 

3. Skincare from space

In the 1990s NASA scientists discovered an extremely resilient bacterium known as “Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032”. The bacterium survived vigorous sanitation efforts in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory clean room, which led scientists to carry out several research studies to better understand its ability to thrive under incredibly harsh conditions. Space agencies take extreme steps to ensure microbes don’t join astronauts during inter-planet travel, in order to protect planets from contaminants. This bacterium’s ability to stick around post-sanitization fascinated them - so much so that they decided to send it to the International Space Station for 18 months so that it could be analyzed within a highly controlled environment.  

30+ research papers later, it’s used in skin care as an advanced anti-aging treatment and in sunscreen to provide additional SPF protection. Delavie Sciences has created its own skincare line using Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 as the key ingredient. It’s also said to have potential in medicine and as an advanced cleaning product. 

4. Lighting that helps your circadian rhythm 

NASA has carried out a lot of research on how lighting can be used to support human health and plant growth. Why? It’s difficult for astronauts to regulate their circadian rhythms in space due to the lack of night and day (they experience around 12 sunsets per day!). Plus, the ability to grow food in space is a requirement for longer space missions. What they’ve found is that LED technology can be used to suppress melatonin production, resulting in increased alertness (goodbye afternoon coffee). Companies have since developed NASA-inspired LED light bulbs that can be used in everyday homes to help households maintain their ideal circadian rhythms. 

SunTrac, for example, is an LED bulb series that has been designed to be controlled by an app that will automatically adjust the bulb’s lighting as the day progresses. Then there’s Lighting Science’s “GoodDay” and “GoodNight” bulb series: bulbs that are “specifically tuned to emit wavelengths to induce wakefulness and sleepiness”. Definitely worth considering for your next home renovation. 

5. The perfect clothing for outdoor enthusiasts

A lot of mindblowing technology goes into building and finishing spaceships - like, covering a spaceship in a coating that can both radiate heat away from the ship and absorb heat. This protective coating is now used in clothing created for outdoor enthusiasts: it returns its wearer’s body heat back to them in cold settings and, in hot weather, radiates heat away from its wearer.

Initially, the coating was patented by NASA. From there, it was licensed and developed into earth-friendly products by a company named Emisshield Inc.. Emisshield Inc. then licensed the technology exclusively to entrepreneurs Brad Poorman and Jim Hind, who used it to launch Trizar: a niche company that utilizes the unique coating within its fabrics. Today, the coating is used in textile factories around the world and is available in snowboarding gear, outdoor jackets, hunting gear, and even Levi’s jeans.  

6. You can now workout like an astronaut

If you dream of becoming an astronaut but don’t quite have the dedication to make it happen - the good news is you can still look like one. The same workout machine that astronauts use in space to keep them in shape while living that zero-gravity lifestyle is now available on Earth. To be more specific, it’s probably available in your local gym!

When NASA originally funded the creation of the Resistive Exercise Device (RED), the goal was for it to be used by astronauts in space so that they could avoid muscle and bone deterioration. Now the workout machine is used in fitness centers throughout the United States and continues to be used in space stations - helping those on Earth and beyond to achieve the same benefits as would be expected from weight lifting, only through resistance training

7. Growing your own food? This NASA-designed algorithm can help you forecast its success!

What started as an algorithm designed to identify clouds has gone on to have a far-reaching impact on Earth. For decades, a series of satellites called “Landsat” have been used to take pictures of Earth and monitor the overall health of the planet. However, a long-term problem with these satellites was that clouds would mess with their data collection. So, when the time came to give these satellites an upgrade, Geospatial Data Analysis Corporation was recruited to develop an algorithm that detects clouds so that satellite imagery data collection wouldn’t be disrupted. The developers didn’t disappoint.  

Now incorporated into Landsat 8 satellites, the algorithm software created by Geospatial Data Analysis Corporation can be used to decipher crop and soil health, and can also pick up on forest fires and insect outbreaks that could threaten the health of crops. While this technology is a breakthrough for the agriculture industry, it also provides researchers with crucial insights into global food security.

8. Sleep easier with bed-cooling technology

If you find summer brings on a bout of heat-induced insomnia, this bed-cooling technology might just change your life - particularly if you share a bed with someone who has different temperature preferences than you. Created by ex-NASA subcontractor Mark Aramli, the “BedJet” was a natural progression for him after working on spacesuit environment control systems (e.g., temperature systems that help to keep astronauts comfortable in their suits). 

The BedJet is a double-unit cotton sheet containing fans and built-in heaters that can be separately adjusted depending on what side of the bed you sleep in - allowing both you and your sleeping partner to enjoy ideal sleeping temperatures within the same bed.   

9. The ultimate office chair

If, like many of us throughout the world, you find yourself sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time - you’ll be pleased to hear that NASA technology has enabled us all to have a more comfortable experience. By combining temperature-regulating fabrics (that were originally used in spacesuit gloves) with airline-quality “Tempur-Pedic” memory foam, a company named Raynor Gaming developed a new brand of office chairs named the “Energy Pro” series that are marketed towards serious gamers. 

As is often the case with advanced technology, it was a simple request that led to the creation of these chairs. Responding to the query of a teenager who was keen on experiencing a gaming chair that used advanced cooling technology, Raynor reportedly created a prototype in less than two weeks. Today, Raynor Gaming is largely successful and partners with major sports gaming brands such as NBA 2K League and Dignitas.

10. Save money on car repairs 

Yes, it might seem mundane - but how many times have you found yourself wishing you didn’t have to pour your savings into expensive car repairs? NASA nanotechnology to the rescue! TriboTEX, a lubricant that emerged from a NASA research fellowship, has so far been used to repair wear and tear within more than 30,000 vehicles. It works by filling in parts of the engine that have experienced friction - and, according to NASA, it could save consumers millions of dollars worth of annual car repairs.

Created by fellowship winner Pavlo “Pasha” Rudenko, the lubricant works by using “nano-flakes” that contain a sticky edge that is attracted to engine grooves, and a smooth edge that faces outward. As Nasa describes it, it’s “much like filling in a pothole in a street” - giving the worn engine area a tough new surface

11. Your phone’s camera

It’s true - thanks to NASA you’re able to pull out your phone and take high-quality photos within a moment’s notice. Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Eric Fossum’s digital image sensor experiments are now described as the Space Agency’s “single most ubiquitous spinoff technology” - even though people called him an “idiot” for working on the project at the time.

In the 1990s, Fossum was convinced he could build smaller, lighter cameras - so NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory hired him to give it a go. He developed the world-first digital image sensors known as “complementary metal oxide semiconductors” (CMOS) - sensors that make it possible for the body and battery of a camera to be much smaller than previous models. CMOS technology is now used in cell phones, Go-Pros, DSLRs, and webcams. 

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