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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.

2/ Cam­eras

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.

8/ Swim­suits

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.

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