Human infatuation with everything connected to space and its exploration has led to the birth of technological innovations that have already become remarkable breakthroughs in different verticals. And although part of these innovations is applied only in the realm of space, others have found their way into human everyday routine, bringing major changes to how we live on Earth. For instance, you can visit here to see how different solutions leverage space data for a variety of purposes.
In this piece, we are going to pay homage to the “unearthly” innovations by covering the most interesting and unusual technologies that appeared thanks to space exploration and penetrated our daily life.
Digital photography can be considered the most widely used innovation that has originated at NASA when the mosaic photo sensors were designed to produce imagery via digitizing light signals. Although the concept of digital photography was developed by NASA, it was Kodak that created the first digital camera so that this innovation could find its use in people’s lives, pushing digital photography to a new height.
Ever since the first artificial satellite launch in 1957, Earth observation started climbing new heights. Now, there are constellations of different satellites circling the Earth, providing invaluable data for different industries. Earth pictures made by satellites almost daily help us understand our planet better by easily tracking various changes on a global scale. Primarily, this data is extremely useful for environmental changes detection to react accordingly in a timely manner.
However, with the development of technology and algorithms for the analysis of satellite Earth imagery, these pictures can be processed and used for an endless range of purposes: in agriculture – for farm management, in forestry – for fires detection and monitoring, in global changes tracking – for glacier movement observation, urban development monitoring, and much more.
For solar panels, the path from concept to reality and everyday use was quite long. The first solar panel was invented in 1883, and only 71 years later this innovation has reached the turning point when NASA put a solar panel on a satellite, later collaborating with scientists to produce panels with self-cleaning functions, which is critical in space.
Solar panels act as energy sources in a wide range of areas, including telecommunications, medicine, microelectronics, etc. In the form of large arrays they are used in various satellites and solar power plants. And although they cannot fully meet the energy needs, they have become the main source of energy for artificial satellites. The existing fuel systems and batteries used in the past were too heavy. Solar panels have a greater power-to-weight ratio and are more cost-effective.
Memory foam originated from NASA’s effort to invent a material for aircraft seats in 1966. The main purpose of such a seat was to increase passengers’ survival chances in case of a plane crash. For that, the seat material had to be incredibly shock absorbent but still comfortable. Now, this material is utilized not only in aircraft but in a huge range of products, such as orthopedic mattresses and pillows, crash helmets, wheelchair pads, body armor, and more.
Originally, the mouse was only part of a project aimed at augmenting human intellect. The inventors of the mouse were looking for an efficient way (device) to allow for interaction with information displays.
That is when NASA came into play, helping to test all of the existing options (mouse, light pen, joysticks, and others) to choose the best. Measuring the time required to move the cursor to the object on the screen, they established that the mouse was the “winner”. And although the mouse hasn’t found its application in space, it has become a huge part of the computer industry, revolutionizing the way we hover the cursor on the screen.
It’s hard to believe baby formula is somehow connected to space technologies. However, the scientists that worked on infant food have also worked as researchers for NASA, where they developed a nutritional supplement called Formulaid.
During NASA’s research on using algae to create oxygen in outer space, it was found that particular types of algae contain the same essential fatty acids as the human breast milk. Now, this discovery is used in infant food production.
Wireless headsets we use today have originated from the collision of a simple pair of headphones and a wireless microphone. The idea of combining these two technologies came up in the 60s when researchers were working on solving the issue of airline pilots’ headsets being too bulky and cumbersome. Already in 1961, NASA designed a two-way communication and fully portable system for space travel. The astronauts now could use a microphone headset unit to communicate with each other and with the ground control station.