More Than Just Moon Rocks

By Rachel Dry
Sunday, July 19, 2009

You may not be able to get to the moon anytime soon, but space -- or at least stuff developed for space -- isn't totally out of reach. It's in your bathroom (infrared ear thermometers), bedroom (mattresses and pillows) and kitchen (enriched baby food). Some highlights, courtesy of Daniel Lockney, editor of Spinoff, a publication that covers commercialized NASA technology:

High-tech shut-eye

In a search for fatigue-resistant seats for long flights, NASA developed a specialized foam. Today it's found in Tempur-Pedic mattresses and pillows.

The DustBuster

NASA worked with Black & Decker to create longer-lasting batteries for cordless power tools. "They weren't cleaning crumbs off their tools in space," Lockney notes, but the core technologies developed were later incorporated in commercial tools -- including the mini-vacuum.

Eagle Eyes sunglasses

This brand of shades uses technology developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to block certain harmful ultraviolet rays. The lens material was originally designed for welders -- and is now useful, the company notes, for "the needs of any lifestyle."

Freeze-dried food

NASA pioneered techniques to dehydrate food, a process that preserves nutrients, makes food weigh less and, Lockney notes, "some people would say it preserves the taste." (Not everyone's a fan.)

The "space rose"

International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. sent a miniature rose plant aboard Discovery to find out what a rose smells like in another gravity system (as sweet, it turns out, but different). Shiseido cosmetics used the "space rose" scent in its fragrance Zen.

Climate control

How do astronauts stay cool -- or warm enough -- in space? The same way you can stay cool in . . . a corporate boardroom.

"Thermally adaptive" materials, developed in the late 1980s for astronauts' suits and gloves, are now available in sports socks, dog jackets and the Jos. A. Bank "Stays Cool" suit.

Olympic swimming gold

In Beijing last year, Michael Phelps and other gold medalists donned Speedo LZR suits, which were tested for ultimate speed at NASA's Langley Research Center.

The Right Stuff

This new product is one item based on NASA research that conspicuously ties itself to the space program. In his 1979 book, Tom Wolfe famously described the NASA men as having "The Right Stuff." Today the stuff is available in the form of a sports drink: an electrolyte blend that increases an athlete's (or an astronaut's) plasma volume -- a key way, the company says, to stay hydrated.

What didn't NASA bring you?

Tang. That powdery orange drink was developed by General Foods in 1959. But John Glenn tasted it in 1962 and said he liked it, forever linking the sugary beverage and the space program, according to Lockney.

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