WE JUST CELEBRATED the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing on the moon, an amazing, remarkable achievement and a downright difficult-to-understand feat.
From this achievement, NASA developed a huge array of technology and products that are benefiting consumers. Through the process, over a thousand U.S. patents were granted to people working on the project.
The source for the information in this column came in part from the NASA Technology Transfer Program.
The list of inventions goes on and on, but let me share a few that I’ve come to appreciate and that might make your Top 10 list. I think we are all familiar with memory foam. One of the engineers, Charles Yost, worked on the modules to be sure the astronauts could be recovered safely after landing. Researchers discovered “slow spring back foam” and later Yost developed the “temper foam.” Of course, since then memory foam is used in many applications, from the Dallas Cowboy’s helmets to high comfort insoles in shoes.
Another invention was the anti-corrosion coating to deal with the extreme cold in space and the heat from the rocket exhaust system. As a saltwater boater, we have experienced the destructive forces from ocean spray and fog and its corrosive element. One of the celebrated applications of this coating came in the 1980s when it was applied to the Statue of Liberty to curb further deterioration.
ArterioVision pairs ultra-sound equipment with NASA’s software genius to be able to detect early signs of arteriosclerosis, which threatens heart attacks and strokes. Now, with this ArterioVision, signs of cardiovascular illness can be detected in early stages.
Cochlear implants – in the late ’70s, Adam Kissiah, Jr., a hearing-impaired engineer, came up with a concept for a new type of hearing aid, an implant that produced digital pulses to stimulate the auditory nerve endings that would then transmit the signals to the brain.
Another benefit we have today is scratch-resistant eyeglass lenses. This provided the shift from glass lenses, which were heavy and dangerous, to a durable plastic. Ted Wydeven, while working another project, came up with a coating that was surprisingly tough. This abrasion-resistant lens was used for space helmet visors and in 1983 Foster Grant used the technology in sunglasses.
Another development was the insulin pump, which researchers, working on the Mars Viking spacecraft and anticipating traveling farther into space, designed for monitoring the astronauts’ health.
Through the space program we have water filters that have been developed to provide clean water that is safe to drink.
Further spinoffs from NASA’s technology have given us LEDs, infrared ear thermometers, improved radial tires, firefighting gear, cordless vacuums, powdered lubricants, and LASIK eye surgery.
Space projects have helped us in our everyday lives. The program was curtailed under President Richard Nixon. Research is valuable to us every day. Programs like this enhance it. It brings industry and universities together toward worthy goals and achievements. Let’s push forward.
Gene Johnson is publisher emeritus of Press Publications