Handheld vacuum cleaners
Moon dust is the worst. It gets everywhere and ruins your shiny white spaceship. After NASA asked Black & Decker to design a battery powered drill, to take samples of moon rock, the company used their research to develop the iconic Dustbuster. The portable vacuum has been keeping homes clean for over 30 years. Now if only Buzz would wipe his space boots before coming into the capsule.
In ear thermometers
NASA scientists developed the in-ear thermometer you might remember from your last fever dream, using the same principles that allow them to measure the temperature of stars. This was good news, because using a rectal thermometer in Zero G must be tricky, like a gruesome version of the docking sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Scratch resistant lenses
Astronauts need to see what they’re doing, even when pelted with debris. To this end, their visors use special scratch-resistant lenses, ten times tougher than normal. The technology is now used in some sunglasses, as is NASA-developed ‘memory metal’ that allows frames to spring back into shape after being crushed.
A great example of NASA research leading to an unexpected breakthrough. Scientists were experimenting with using bread mould to generate oxygen on long-haul spaceflights. They discovered that certain algae produced fatty acids also found in breast milk. Since 2002, this oil has been used to enrich baby food. So the next time you see a cute child, know that it is fuelled by hyper-scientific algae from beyond the stars. Fear it.
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In the early 1990s, Eric Fossum was hard at work in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, trying to downsize the cameras used on spacecraft. His solution was the CMOS Active Pixel Sensor, or ‘camera on a chip’. The miniaturised system paved the way for the sensors found in today’s cameras and phones. They’re perfect for capturing the red, pock marked surface of Mars, or the red, pock marked surface of a teenager’s profile pic.