Space may be the final frontier, but that doesn’t mean the innovations for space exploration haven’t found new uses on planet Earth. Everyday appliances like memory foam mattresses, freeze-dried food, and the NACA ducts on the hood of a Shelby GT 500 were all drawn from aeronautical and aerospace inspirations. Here are four futuristic technologies from NASA that are revolutionizing safety in daily life.
Flame Retardant and Resistant Material
Deep space is -455 degrees Fahrenheit, and atmospheric re-entry can reach 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the dangers to both the spacecraft and the astronauts inside, NASA developed fabrics resistant to extreme temperatures and other environmental hazards. In partnership with Celanese Corporation, NASA created PBI polymers that are fabricated to be exceptionally heat resistant. PBI polymers have been used for firefighting and military uniforms since the 1980s. Other spinoffs include FRT (flame-retardant treated) fabrics like Dupont’s Nomex and Kevlar brands, worn by NASCAR drivers and those in metal, chemical and electrical industries.
NASA has used aerogel—an open-celled, mesoporous, solid foam—in space suits and shuttle designs for both insulation and collecting space dust for years. Since aerogel can be used in superinsulation and supercapacitors, the practical applications seem boundless. Architecture, batteries, desalination and electrodes have found use for aerogel’s absorption, strength and protective qualities. In vehicles, aerogel is used as pipe wrap or blankets. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette featured aerogel in the transmission tunnel for protection from the extreme heat of the powerful engine.
GPS and Sat-Navs
Though these devices have become a mainstay in modern times, they were invented for tracking satellites orbiting Earth. Now, GPS and other satellite-navigation systems are in our cell phones, household appliances and, most importantly, transportation. Using portable radio receivers, a GPS system can track locations approximately, meaning the lost can be found. A recent adaptation that was included in NASA’s Spinoff publication was the GPS Sensor Web that detected the formation of a monsoon flash flood by reading the gathering moisture in the air.
Google, BMW, Nissan and Tesla are just some of the names joining the race to develop commercially available driverless cars. The idea of a robotic car has been the dream of many automotive and aircraft engineers for years. Teaming up with Nissan, NASA’s robotics lab equipped a Nissan LEAF with robotics software and conducted a test that yielded positive results. Meanwhile, factories around the world are putting together cars with autopilot features. These features include sensors that can pick up movement and prevent accidents, swerving and loss of control during sudden stops on slick pavement. These vehicles also feature eye-tracking sensors and software developed for monitoring fighter pilot attentiveness that can be used to issue a warning to drowsy or inattentive drivers. Inattentive or drowsy driving was, according to the top rated lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky, responsible for 846 fatalities in 2014.
NASA is not solely about studying space. The organization has actively pursued the betterment of life on Earth for years. Such advancements in safety prove that exploration in one area opens new roads elsewhere. Only the future knows what NASA will help develop next.