10 Surprising Ways NASA Technology Has Improved Life On Earth

These life-changing innovations came straight from the heavens.

27/02/2016 2:20 PM AEDT | Updated 27/02/2016 2:20 PM AEDT

NASA's primary focus is the cosmos, but the space agency has a surprising and significant impact on everyday technologies we use on Earth.

NASA, in many ways, is America's research laboratory. Since 1976, the NASA publication Spinoff has profiled nearly 2,000 space technologies that have made their way -- in one way or another -- into the private sector, including baby formula, swimsuit designs, Dustbuster cleaners and protective firefighter gear.

In celebration of Spinoff’s 40th year, the agency took a look back at what it says are the top 40 technologies that have had the greatest impact on Earth. Below, NASA explains how 10 of these life-changing innovations came straight from the heavens. 

  • Digital Image Sensors
    Adam Hester via Getty Images
    "Whether you take pictures and videos with a DSLR camera or a cell phone, or even capture action on the go with a device like a GoPro Hero, you’re using NASA technology. The CMOS active pixel sensor in most digital image-capturing devices was invented when NASA needed to miniaturize cameras for interplanetary missions. It is also widely used in medical imaging and dental X-ray devices." -NASA
  • Enriched Baby Formula
    KidStock via Getty Images
    "While developing life support for Mars missions, NASA-funded researchers discovered a natural source for an omega-3 fatty acid previously found primarily in breast milk that plays a key role in infant development. The ingredient has since been added to more than 90 percent of infant formula on the market and is helping babies worldwide develop healthy brains, eyes and hearts." -NASA
  • Memory Foam
    Vladimir Tomovic via Getty Images
    "Perhaps the most widely recognized NASA spinoff, memory foam was invented by NASA-funded researchers looking for ways to keep test pilots cushioned during flights. Today, memory foam makes for more comfortable beds, couches and chairs, not to mention better shoes, movie theater seats and even football helmets." -NASA
  • Food Safety Standards
    "Looking to ensure the absolute safety of prepackaged foods for spaceflight, NASA partnered with the Pillsbury Company to create a new, systematic approach to quality control. Now known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), the method has become an industry standard that benefits consumers worldwide by keeping food free from a wide range of potential chemical, physical and biological hazards." -NASA
  • Swimsuit Designs
    Henrik Sorensen via Getty Images
    "Wind-tunnel testing at NASA’s Langley Research Center played a key role in the development of Speedo’s LZR Racer swimsuit, proving which materials and seams best reduced drag as a swimmer cuts through the water. The swimsuit made a splash during its Olympic debut in 2008, as nearly every medal winner and world-record breaker wore the suit. Full-body swimsuits, such as the original LZR Racer, have since been disallowed from international competitions, but a modified version of the suit continues to be popular among professional competitors." -NASA
  • Scratch-Resistant, UV-Reflecting Lenses
    Goodshoot via Getty Images
    "Some of the earliest research into effective scratch-resistant coatings for prescription and sunglass lenses drew from work done at Ames Research Center on coatings for astronaut helmet visors and plastic membranes used in water purification systems. Then, in the 1980s, NASA developed sunlight-filtering lenses to provide eye protection and enhance colors, and these lenses have found their way into sunglasses, ski goggles and safety masks for welders." -NASA
  • Dustbuster
    EHStock via Getty Images
    "An Apollo-era partnership with Black & Decker to build battery-operated tools for moon exploration and sample collection led to the development of a line of consumer, medical and industrial hand-held cordless tools, including the popular Dustbuster cordless vacuum." -NASA
  • Emergency Blankets
    ARIS MESSINIS via Getty Images
    "So-called space blankets, also known as emergency blankets, were first developed by NASA in 1964. The highly reflective insulators are often included in emergency kits and are also used by long-distance runners after finishing a race to avoid a large swing in body temperature. They have been incorporated into outdoor clothing and sleeping bags as well." -NASA
  • Anti-Icing Technology
    "NASA has spent many decades solving problems related to ice accumulation on the wings and in the engines of aircraft. Spinoffs from this research include not only technologies for aircraft but de-icing formulations for train tracks, as well." -NASA
  • Firefighter Protection
    Bill Stormont via Getty Images
    "NASA helped develop a line of polymer textiles for use in spacesuits and vehicles. Dubbed PBI, the heat- and flame-resistant fiber is now used in numerous firefighting, military, motor sports and other applications." -NASA


Surprised? There's plenty more where that came from.

Also On HuffPost:
Exercising In Space

More On This Topic