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The rewards of our nation's ventures in space go beyond astonishing scientific discoveries and breathtaking human drama on the stage of the cosmos. All modern technological conveniences have roots somewhere in the past, whether stemming from great need, from a military conflict, or simply by happy accident.

The discovery of life-saving penicillin was a laboratory accident.

Microwave ovens emerged from post-World-War-II military radar technology the first microwave model was called the 'Radarange' for a reason. In some cases, that useful gadget in your home is a true space-age miracle. Early light-sensitive detectors and meters made use of this phenomenon.

But photoelectric technology didn't become advanced enough to produce useful quantities of electrical power until the space age, when the need to power orbital satellites and space probes challenged engineers to action. Solar cells were first used in space on the United States' Vanguard spacecraft in to extend the life of the battery-powered satellite. In , the Explorer 6 satellite was launched, carrying large wing-like arrays of solar panels that enabled it to operate for months.

Space exploration: France is continuing onwards and upwards

Today, solar panels are found everywhere, from giant collector arrays on building rooftops to small panels or cells powering all manner of gadgets. Aerogel, first invented in , is created by removing the liquid components from a gel and leaving behind the thin skeleton of its solid structure. The extremely sparse material is a very poor conductor of heat, making it perfect as a lightweight thermal insulator.

NASA employed the insulators developed from aerogel in the heat shields of spacecraft and also the swaddling layers of its astronauts' spacesuits. Professional explorers and serious wilderness enthusiasts on Earth have benefited from commercial spinoffs of these insulators, in the form of glove liners, boot insoles, and even lightweight insulated jackets. One climber who summited Mount Everest with a pair of " Toasty Feet " insoles inside her boots reported that her feet remained warm and comfortable throughout her climb, despite wearing only a single pair of socks.

Outline of space technology

The multi-layer, aluminized-mylar material was created to address the need for lightweight and compactly stored thermal insulation to protect astronauts from temperature extremes in space. The scratch resistant coating you may have on your sunglasses, eyeglasses, or ski mask also stems from the development of spacesuit materials. In the s NASA'S Ames Research Center came up with a material to prevent astronauts' spacesuit helmet visors from becoming scratched — a serious consideration during space walks and other maneuvers where clear vision is essential, and scratch-covered lenses and visors cannot be readily replaced.

If you have marveled at the detailed, rich, and colorful pictures that tiny little camera on your smart phone takes — or are just glad to have such a small and portable camera with you at all times — you can thank NASA.

LISA Pathfinder

CMOS stands for "complementary metal-oxide semiconductor," a solid-state technology previously developed for use in microprocessors and other computer applications. This space-camera innovation later spun off a family of smaller, cheaper imaging chips for a range of commercial applications, including smart phones, sport cams, web cams, compact digital and DSLR cameras.

The fatal Apollo 1 training drill fire that killed three astronauts in pressed NASA engineers to rethink the use of combustible materials in spacesuits and other furnishings on board their spacecraft. This innovation bestowed fire protection not only upon Apollo astronauts of later missions, it also protects post-Apollo astronauts to this day.

The technology quickly branched out into other government and commercial applications, from the outer fire-resistant shells of firefighter gear, to sporting applications such as clothing worn by race car drivers, to uniforms and protective clothing for workers in industrial settings. Then, time to cook.

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You may appreciate how the vacuum-packaging keeps your food shelf-safe for months or even years without refrigeration, but did you know that the technique was developed for use in space by astronauts? NASA developed a process for freeze-drying and vacuum-packaging food for astronauts in space as early as Gemini missions. It has been used to supply or supplement the food of all human space missions since.

Bacterial contamination and growth is prevented by the hermetic seal and the low-pressure and -oxygen environment inside. Vacuum-sealing also reduces the volume of the package, making for more compact storage.

The Future

Out of this space innovation came improvements to the preparation of commercially supplied food on Earth. In partnership with the Honeywell Corporation, NASA improved smoke detector technology in the s, creating a unit with adjustable sensitivity to avoid constant false alarms. During long space missions where every ounce of weight and inch of space aboard a shuttle must be maximized, freeze-dried foods have become a staple.

Freeze-dried foods are incredibly light, and they retain their nutritional value. Once reconstituted, they are also easier and more pleasant to eat than former meal sources that were packed into squeeze tubes. In the s, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory invented a light, miniature imaging system that required little energy in order to take high quality photographs from space.

This technology has become standard in cell phone and computer cameras. A nutritious, algae-based vegetable oil invented by NASA scientists who were searching for a recycling agent to use during long space missions is now an additive in many infant formulas. It contains two essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized by the human body.

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The pyrotechnic mechanism used to detach a space shuttle from its rocket boosters after launch is the same used in Lifeshears, but in a smaller scale. Lifeshears are a tool that can be used in emergency situations to cut into cars or collapsed buildings to rescue people trapped inside.

The requirements for landing space shuttles led NASA scientists to do extensive research on minimizing hydroplaning — when vehicles slide uncontrollably on a wet surface — on runways. They discovered that cutting grooves into runways helps channel water away from the runway and significantly reduces accidents. Many highways and airports now have grooved pavement. In the sealed, artificial environment of a spacecraft, attempts to grow plants have led to ethylene buildup. NASA invented an air purifier for the International Space Station that is now used widely on Earth — everywhere from restaurants, to hospitals, to refrigerators — to remove ethylene, which hastens decay, as well as other particulates and pathogens.

Memory foam was originally invented as a pad for astronaut seats that would mold to their bodies during the high forces of takeoff and landing, then return to a neutral state. This eliminated the need to customize seats to individual astronauts' body sizes. Because prolonged exposure to zero-gravity leads to bone loss and muscle atrophy, NASA created workout machines to enable astronauts to maintain physical fitness while in space. NASA began experimenting with insulation technology for the Apollo space crafts and suits, leading to the invention of common construction insulation.

The 10 biggest developments in space exploration in the past year

Infrared ear thermometers, which allow for instant temperature capture without the risk of picking up pathogens and causing cross-infection, utilize the same technology developed for assessing the temperature of distant planets. Ice is a real threat for shuttles in space, and NASA has devised multiple electronic solutions to prevent ice formation on spacecrafts, some of which are now used on commercial aircraft. The first portable computer, the Grid Compass, was used on multiple shuttle missions in the s.