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Space: NASA’s coolest inventions that you actually use in everyday life (Part 1)

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NASA’s adventures into space haven’t just sent people to the moon and into orbit – their technology developments have contributed to everyday life more than you might think.

As Techly will explain over the coming weeks, NASA has transformed our lives from how we sleep, to what we eat and even how we care for the environment.

When US President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Space Act in 1958, it stipulated that NASA’s research and advancements had to benefit everyone, not just those smart enough to be sent to space.

While we’re not quite at the point of flying cars and moon holidays, NASA’s research and development has greatly benefitted our lives over the past 50-odd years. Let’s take a look at how space flight has helped you, even if you don’t know it yet.

Sunglass lenses

Roy Orbison 1965

Doesn’t matter if it’s night and you’re indoors, NASA can make you look cool – especially if you’re Roy Orbison.

Unlike iPhones, when you drop your sunglasses they don’t smash into tiny pieces and get lodged in your ear or thumb the next time you use them.

That’s because they’re made from plastic. So what, you say? NASA didn’t invent plastic. No, no they didn’t. That honour goes to Alexander Parkes.

But when the US Food and Drug Administration required manufacturers to use plastic in sunnies instead of glass, due to its ability to better absorb ultraviolet radiation, there was a problem. The plastic used was extremely prone to scratches, ruining hipsters’ lives worldwide.

That’s where NASA saved the day. When the agency was looking to protect equipment from dirt in space, they came up with a special plastics coating as a solution.

Foster-Grant sunglasses found that the NASA tech was 10 times more scratch resistant, and their famous adverts made them a popular choice.

Invisible Braces

Invisible braces

Invisible braces

Again, NASA aren’t responsible for providing the technology for those ugly metal contraptions that are the bane of a teenager’s life.

When kids found out they needed braces it was the worst news ever. Brace face, train tracks, Jaws, zipper lips – you name it, braces are proof that kids are cruel.

But luckily, NASA Advanced Ceramics Research was working with Cerdyne to create a substance to protect the infrared antenna of heat-seeking missile trackers. It was made from translucent polycrystalline alumina (TPA).

US company Unitek discovered that TPA was strong enough to replace metal in braces and was translucent too. No one wants a mouthful of metal, and so in came the invisible braces.

The product hit the market in 1987 and proved hugely popular, most famously worn by perfectly sane Scientologist Tom Cruise.

Food

Freeze Dried Ice Cream

Freeze-dried ice cream – thanks NASA (we guess).

As well as making us look good, NASA’s need to provide astronauts with nutritional meals also improved one of the biggest crazes to hit America – the TV dinner.

While NASA can’t be credited with creating the product that allowed humans to work on their loung bum-grooves at dinner time, they at least gave them a makeover.

NASA and Nestlé teamed up to invent freeze drying, involving the dehydration of food to make it convenient for space travel.

The goods are cooked, frozen and slowly heated in a vacuum chamber to remove ice crystals formed by the freezing process. The end result is a meal that retains up to 98 per cent of its original nutritional value and weighs only 20 per cent of its original weight – perfect for astronauts who have to deal with gravity when enjoying their dinner.

Freeze drying is mainly used in mainstream products such as dried fruits, powdered soups, instant rice and packet pasta.

Pillsbury cashed in on the hype surrounding the Apollo space missions by releasing Space Food Sticks, together with great advertisements using the latest technology in television.

Freeze drying has also assisted countless welfare organisations, such as Meals on Wheels, to deliver ready-made dinners to the disabled and elderly.

As for those little tykes on the other end of the age scale, babies also have NASA to thank for the little jars of mush they consume. NASA’s research into algae as a recycling agent actually produced the ingredient microalgae, which is now used in 90 per cent of baby foods found in the US for nutrition.

So next time you’re propped up in front of the box with a TV dinner and a jar of baby mush for your little one, thank NASA.

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