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Top Commercial Products Launched by NASA

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For more than 40 years, the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program has helped transfer NASA technology to the private sector. The result: products used by millions of people around the world in the fields of health and medicine, industry, consumer goods, transportation, public safety, computer technology, and environmental resources.
Photo Credit: NASA/Courtesy of nasaimages.org

For more than 40 years, the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program has helped transfer NASA technology to the private sector.

The result: products used by millions of people around the world in the fields of health and medicine, industry, consumer goods, transportation, public safety, computer technology, and environmental resources.

Likewise, NASA has made existing products more successful by simply using them in their day-to-day operations and on missions.

Click ahead to see some of the most commercially successful technology and products used or created by NASA over the years.

Posted 22 July 2009
By Constance Parten

Source: NASA Spinoff and CNBC.com

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Tang, Velcro, WD-40 and Tupperware

Contrary to popular belief and legend, Tang, Velcro, Tupperware and WD-40 were neither created for NASA nor first used on NASA missions.

Three of these consumer products did get a big boost from NASA using them on missions, though, and have since been inextricably linked to the space program.

Tang, created in 1957, was first used by NASA on Gemini flights in 1965.

Velcro, created in Switzerland in 1941 wasn't widely used until NASA's adoption of hook-and-loop fasteners in the '60s.

And WD-40, created in 1953 by Norm Larsen, was first used by NASA in 1957 to protect the outer skin of the Atlas missile.

Tupperware, on the other hand made its debut in 1946, but, according to company spokeswoman Elinor Steele, has never had a relationship with NASA to her knowledge, though Tupperware has worked with the European Space Association and has been contacted by NASA regarding projects.

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Photo Credit: AP Graphics

Artificial Limbs

Advancements such as Environmental Robots Inc.’s development of artificial muscle systems for use in NASA space robotic and extravehicular activities have been adapted to create more functionally dynamic artificial limbs.

NASA’s temper foam (see next slide) allows moldable materials offering the natural look and feel of flesh, as well as preventing friction between the skin and the prosthesis, and heat/moisture buildup.

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Photo Credit: Wikicommons/Johan

Temper Foam

Initially referred to as "slow spring back foam," temper foam matches pressure against it and slowly returns to its original form once the pressure is removed. The result of a program designed to develop a padding concept to improve crash protection for airplane passengers, Ames Research Center developed what is now called memory foam.

It has been incorporated into mattresses, pillows, military and civilian aircraft, automobiles and motorcycles, sports safety equipment, amusement park rides and arenas, horseback saddles, archery targets, furniture, and human and animal prostheses.

Its high-energy absorption and soft characteristics offer protection and comfort. Today, temper foam is being employed by NASCAR to provide added safety in race cars.

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Photo Credit: AP Graphics

360º Camera

This NASA technology was used for guiding space robots as well as in research in cryogenic wind tunnels and for remote docking of spacecraft.

Images are captured in their entirety in a 360-degree immersive digital representation, and the viewer can navigate to any desired direction within the image.

Several car manufacturers already use this technology to provide customers a look at their latest line-up of automobiles, and the panoramic camera is also being used to show hotel accommodations and for non-invasive surgical procedures.

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Photo Credit: iStock

Portable Cordless Vacuums

For the Apollo space mission, NASA required a portable, self-contained drill capable of extracting core samples from below the lunar surface.

Black & Decker was tasked with the job, and developed a computer program to optimize the design of the drill’s motor and ensure minimal power consumption. That computer program led to the development of a cordless miniature vacuum cleaner called the Dustbuster.

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Photo Credit: NASA/Courtesy of nasaimages.org

Fire-Resistant Reinforcement

Built and designed by Avco Corporation, the Apollo heat shield was coated with a material whose purpose was to burn and thus dissipate energy during reentry while charring, to form a protective coating to block heat penetration.

NASA subsequently funded Avco’s development of other applications of the heat shield, such as fire-retardant paints and foams for aircraft.

Further innovations include steel coatings devised to make high-rise buildings and public structures safer by swelling to provide a tough and stable insulating layer over the steel for up to four hours of fire protection, slowing building collapse and providing more time for escape.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Braun

Infrared Ear Thermometers

Diatek Corporation and NASA developed an aural thermometer, which weighs 8 ounces and uses infrared astronomy technology to measure the amount of energy emitted by the eardrum, the same way the temperature of stars and planets is measured.

This method avoids contact with mucous membranes, and permits rapid temperature measurement of newborn or incapacitated patients.

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Photo Credit: iStock

Water Purification

NASA engineers are collaborating with companies to develop systems intended to sustain the astronauts in future Moon and space missions.

This system turns wastewater from respiration, sweat, and urine into drinkable water. Commercially, this system is benefiting people all over the world who need affordable, clean water, especially in remote locations.

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Photo Credit: AP Graphics

Light-Emitting Diodes 

The light-emitting diode technology used in NASA space shuttle plant growth experiments led to the development of the WARP 10, a hand-held, high-intensity, LED unit developed by Quantum Devices Inc.

The WARP 10 is said to relieve minor muscle and joint pain, stiffness,and increases local blood circulation. The WARP 10 is being used by the US Department of Defense and U.S. Navy as a noninvasive “soldier self-care” device for minor injuries and pain.

The next-generation WARP 75 has been used to relieve pain in bone marrow transplant patients, and will be used to combat the symptoms of bone atrophy, multiple sclerosis, diabetic complications, Parkinson’s disease, and in a variety of ocular applications.

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Photo Credit: AP Graphics

Freeze Drying Technology

In planning for the long-duration Apollo missions, NASA conducted extensive research into space food. One of the techniques developed was freeze drying. Action Products commercialized this technique, concentrating on snack food.

Today, one of the benefits of this advancement in food preparation includes simple nutritious meals available to handicapped and otherwise homebound senior adults unable to take advantage of existing meal programs.

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Photo Credit: NASA/Courtesy of nasaimages.org

ZipNut

This fastening device, which is pushed rather than turned, was originally developed for shuttle flight STS-29 and then selected to be a key mechanical element for robotic assembly of the International Space Station. Installation time of space station trusses was improved greatly since by their use.

On Earth, the ZipNut is used in firefighting, aerospace, gas fittings, and manufacturing. In 1999, 45 stainless steel 1-1/8 Heavy Hex ZipNuts were used by the Department of Energy Savannah River Project to speed up maintenance in a high radiation area during a nuclear outage. The ZipNuts were successful and reduced worker radiation.