10 tech innovations that came from Outer Space
1/ Gaming joysticks
Patented back in the 1920s, stick-centred control was first used to manoeuvre planes. But when NASA launched the Apollo missions in the ’60s it installed evolved, Spectrum-style sticks for controlling the safe landing of lunar models. The instruction manual no doubt advised astronauts to wiggle the stick furiously while alternately pressing A and B as fast as possible.
It was NASA engineer Eugene Lally who discovered exactly how photosensors translate light into electrical charges, in turn creating images. With around 300m photos uploaded to Facebook daily, nearly all of them of plates of food or cats, he no doubt feels proud of how we’ve embraced his discovery.
3/ Cordless vacs
For the first Apollo space mission, NASA needed a portable, self-contained drill to extract core samples from below the lunar surface. Who did it call? Man-tech stalwart Black & Decker. The unusual hook-up led to the creation of the Back To The Future Part II- starring Dustbuster, a self-contained vacuum gun that extracts biscuit samples from below the sofa’s surface.
4/ Water filtration In one of many Red Dwarf prophecies, our friends at NASA spent the Noughties creating a system that turns waste water from sweat and urine into drinkable H2O. The aim was not just to help man survive out in the reaches of space, but to provide safe drinking water for underdeveloped countries. A very noble cause, although we’re glad we weren’t on the purity-testing team.
5/ Golf balls
Can’t whack a Titleist more than two feet from the ground? Tee shots resemble Sandra Bullock spinning chaotically into the abyss? Well, you can’t blame the balls, as the centres actually contain liquid designed by NASA to make them deadly accurate. When Wilson Sporting Goods was developing its brand new generation of golf ball in 1995 it turned to the intergalactic outfit’s engineering experts and the now common oxygen/hydrogen “slosh control” was born.
6/ Mylar blankets
If you’ve ever run in a race of any distance, you will have jogged past someone lying on the floor wrapped in what looks like the Man of Steel’s bedsheets from Superman II. Well, NASA invented these warming blankets in 1964, their thin layer of plastic coated with a metallic reflecting agent that returns 97 per cent of radiated heat back to the tinfoil-covered wearer.
7/ Solar power
Despite being invented years before, it was the 1950s’ satellite explosion that first thrust solar cells into the public conscious, extending space missions with their Sun-harnessing power. You’d think with the blazing sun we endure in this country that you’d be able to completely top up your phone within two minutes by now. Pity.
Skin-hugging sport firm Speedo worked with NASA on its second skin-like LZR Racer Suit, using the space know-all’s fluid flow analysis software and wind tunnel testing. Three world records were broken by swimmers wearing it within a week of its 2008 launch, with pool king Michael Phelps exclaiming it made him “feel like a rocket”. Rumours that NASA also helped engineer Phelps are still unsubstantiated.
9/ Memory foam
While experimenting with seat padding to improve crash protection for air passengers, NASA’s Ames Research Center came up with a substance that moulds to your body’s contours. Cue disturbing, murderscene chalk outline-style indentations in bed mattresses the world over.
10/ Freeze drying
Nestlé developed this long-life food process for NASA back when early astronauts survived on puréed meat in tubes. Grub is cooked, frozen quickly then re-heated slowly in a vacuum chamber to remove ice crystals, with the end matter retaining 98 per cent of its nutrition but weighing far less. Today, of course, astronauts chow on fresh fruit and beef jerky, so the freezedrying baton has been taken up by wannabes trying to deconstruct their apple crumbles for the opening week of Master Chef.