5 everyday ways NASA has changed your life

Space program brought more than rockets, Tang

By Nick Upton, Staff writer

When most people think NASA technology, they probably think rockets, Tang and upside down pens.

Since its creation in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been a driving force in technological worldwide. At home, at work, on the road and in the sky, NASA has made life better through technology.

Without the space program's mission to the sky, we would never have seen things like scratch-resistant lenses, cellphones, efficient solar panels or the ubiquitous Brita filters. And without NASA's space-faring rockets, we'd have nothing like the satellite network that brings Internet, TV, cellphone communications and even clear braces.

Oh, and without GPS satellites, we'd still be using maps. Remember maps?

Beyond those satellites, rockets and space probes, NASA helped create a slew of gadgets and gizmos that we use every day. You may just be surprised at what the space program brought back to Earth.

Do you smell something?

No. 5: Smoke detector

Ever left dinner in the oven too long -- or worse -- had a real fire emergency?

Next time you have to climb up a ladder to change a battery on your fire alarm, you can thank NASA.

Without NASA, the family dog might be the only fire alarm in most houses. Engineers at the space body created the first adjustable smoke detectors made with radioactive materials. The first such smoke detectors were necessary for the Skylab orbiting space station. Astronauts had to know immediately if hazardous chemicals or smoke were floating around inside the vehicle.

Soon after the 1973 launch of Skylab, the cheap, adjustable smoke detectors hit stores. Nowadays, one would be pressed to find a house without several such fire alarms. The number of lives and the amount of property saved by the invention is incalculable.

Those smoke detectors were probably going crazy as Skylab burned up in Earth's atmosphere in 1979.

Are you feeling groovy?

No. 4: Safety groove

The safety groove; it sounds like a bad dance from the 1970s, but the NASA invention is saving thousands of lives without most people knowing.

NASA scientists at the Langley Research Center started experimenting with digging grooves into the tarmac. They found out that those grooves diverted water off wet runways, making it much safer to land a plane -- or space shuttle -- when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate.

After the invention in the 1960s, safety grooving caught on in a big way. Highway engineers and airports around the world took note of the simple but incredibly effective solution to an everyday problem. Any driver will recognize the safety grooves at the edge of a road, at intersections and plenty of other wet spots on the road.

NASA credits the invention with reducing highway accidents by 85 percent.

Safety grooving has even made its way to sidewalks and pool patios. So next time your slip stops at poolside, do a little groove for the safety groove.

Is it time for a nap yet?

No. 3: Memory foam

How did you sleep last night? Good? Well, if you have a memory foam mattress, you have NASA scientists to thank for your chipper mood in the morning.

First created by NASA for flight helmets, memory foam can be found in just about every household -- unless of course you live in a cave.

Everything from kids' football helmets to couches, beds and your car seat are made up of memory foam. The "Visco-elastic," temperature-sensitive foam was made to conform to body weight and temperature without breaking the bank.

A similar foam was also created for use in astronauts moon boots to give them an extra spring in their step. That design is now a part of every running shoe and insole sold in a store.

The foam is most visibly seen in the bedroom, popularized by Tempur-Pedic mattresses. So next time you curl up for a nap, thank NASA for bringing their extra terrestrial foam home.

Does it compute?

No. 2: Integrated circuits

How are you reading this article? Unless you get your online news mailed to you, you have NASA to thank for making it possible.

While NASA didn't create the computer, it turned those whirring, beeping monstrosities of the early computer era into the sleek laptops and smartphones of today.

NASA funds were instrumental in backing Texas Instruments, which created the first usable integrated circuit in the early in the race to the moon. Those shiny green circuit boards of modern computers, phones and everything in between are based on the advent of the integrated circuit.

Without such circuits, the personal computer would have been roughly $1 million and take up an entire room. And now we can check our Facebook and email in the car -- for better or worse.

Cords? Who needs stinking cords?

No. 1: Cordless power tools

What do you do when chip crumbs escape the bag and find a home on your couch? If you said break out the shop vac, you're a nut. The DustBuster? Now you're thinking with NASA.

Most people don't know that the efficient batteries in drills, portable vacuums and just about everything on down to cellphones wouldn't be possible without NASA scientists and expertise.

When you're heading to the moon, everything has to be light weight and ultra efficient. With that in mind, the engineers teamed up with Black & Decker to create the cordless drill to sample moon rocks -- really. Scientists worked to time the magnetic motor just right so that it would be easy on the battery. After that breakthrough, anything from medical devices to the iconic DustBuster -- anything run on a motor -- could be untethered from the wall.

Nowadays, only the most stubborn of handymen are still tied to the wall with electrical cords.

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