The Space Age Best Inventions We use Today

Despite sending humans to Earth’s orbit and the moon, the idea of humans surviving in outer space must seem like science fiction. Best inventions that Created an environment that can sustain human life in the almost total absence of gravity, as well as no electrical outlets or oxygen, has been the job of teams of dedicated scientists who have facilitated some of the most unforgettable moments in space exploration.

Ask most people to name consumer products that were originally designed for the Apollo missions and they’ll mistakenly mention Tang and Teflon.

While Tang and Teflon didn’t come from NASA, the Agency has developed many items we use every day without ever realizing their fascinating origins. The lunar era helped to create products most of us would be surprised NASA had anything to do with and that we probably wouldn’t like living without. These items protect us, increase performance and make work easier.

Working in the hostile, airless environment of space, Apollo astronauts needed equipment for doing a tough job under unforgiving circumstances. Like working in space, firefighting also requires specialized equipment to keep fire crews safe.

We compiled 30 best inventions in the race for space. Unlike modern inventions we no longer use, these inventions are employed daily to save lives, improve environmental sustainability, and keep humans healthy.


1. Artificial limbs

This is one of the most important NASA´s best inventions. It has contributed immensely to the field of prosthetics and artificial limbs. Their continued investment in this field has led to the incorporation of many space-age advancements, like shock-absorption and cushioning. 

This, in turn, has allowed the private sector to create improved prosthetics. By working with companies like Environmental Robot’s Inc., advances such as artificial muscle systems, sensors, and actuators are quickly being refined and incorporated into modern, dynamic artificial limbs.

Other areas of development include the incorporation of NASA‘s memory foam technology and other custom-moldable materials into artificial limbs, making them more natural-looking.

Other advancements include designs and materials that reduce friction between the limb and the patient’s skin, as well as reducing heat and moisture buildup.

2. Scratch-resistant lenses

Scratch-resistant lenses were jointly developed by NASA‘s AMES Research Center and the Foster-Grant Corporation. Prior to their development, lenses were primarily made of ground and polished glass.

In  1972, the FDA passed a regulation requiring sunglasses and prescription lenses to be shatter-resistant. This led manufacturers to turn to plastic lenses instead of glass. 

Scratch-resistant lens – Best Inventions

Although the plastic lenses were shatter-resistant, they were also prone to scratching, and so a solution was needed. This was found when NASA developed a series of scratch-resistant surfaces for use on astronaut helmets and other plastic aerospace equipment.

In 1983, Foster-Grant was awarded a license from NASA to further develop and produce scratch-resistant plastics. They combined their own research with NASA’s and brought the technology to the market.

Today, most sunglasses, prescription lenses, and safety lenses in the U.S. and around the world are made from scratch-resistant plastics.

3. Insulin pump

Another space-age best inventions is the insulin pump. This spin-off technically called a Programmable Implantable Medication System (PIMS), it was invented by Robert E. Fischell of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. 

This device, when implanted into a human patient, can deliver precise, preprogrammed amounts of insulin over an extended period of time. They are, in effect, computerized replacements for the human pancreas.

Fischer was, at the time, a staff physicist and chief of technology at APL’s Space Department, which was funded by the Goddard Space Flight Center. Since its creation, the insulin pump has helped save the lives of many diabetics around the world.

4. Firefighting equipment

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.

The polymers created for use in space suits have been valuable in creating flame-retardant, heat-resistant suits for firefighters. Newer suits also feature circulating coolant to keep firefighters from succumbing to heat and advanced breathing systems modeled after astronaut life support systems.

Before 1971 the average weight of a firefighter’s breathing system was more than 30 pounds. With that amount of weight on their backs, firefighters were battling their equipment along with the flames. Frequently, the added weight was so taxing that some opted to attack the flames without their breathing systems.

Firefighting Equipment – Best Inventions

That all changed when engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center began a program at the request of the nation’s fire chiefs to adapt spacesuit life-support systems for use by firefighters. Four years later, the engineers had a design that weighed one-third less and offered a greatly improved fit and better visibility than the previous system. Fire departments across the country were quick to adopt the new system, enhancing the safety of the dangerous job.

5. The dustbuster started out as lunar rock drill for NASA

The humble ‘Dustbuster’ was originally developed by NASA as part of their Apollo Space Mission. The original remit was to develop some form of portable, self-contained drill that could extract core samples from the surface of the Moon.

Black and Decker were approached to develop this tool, and they later devised a computer program to help optimize the design. The computer program was used to refine the technology to provide optimal motor power for minimal power consumption.

One of the simple best inventions

Their research ultimately led to the development of a series of domestic, battery-powered, hand-held devices. Foremost amongst them was the cordless miniaturized vacuum cleaner now immortalized under its original 1970’s brand name, the ‘Dustbuster’. The very first commercially successful Dustbuster was introduced in January 1979, and has since been one of the best inventions of the Space Age.

6. Shock absorbers for buildings

Shock absorbers designed to protect equipment during space shuttle launches are now used to protect bridges and buildings in areas prone to earthquakes.

7. Solar cells

Out of a need to power space missions, NASA consistently improved, photovoltaic cells, sharing the advancements with other companies to accelerate the technology.

Researchers at NASA didn’t invent solar cells, but the organization did help keep the technology alive during the years when it was still largely uneconomical. … It launched in 1958, just four years after the first modern solar cell debuted, although it fell silent by 1964.

8. Water filtration

Water filtration systems are another technology originally developed by NASA‘s Apollo program, which have been commercialized to great success. “In the 1960s, NASA’s Manned Space Center (now known as Johnson Space Center) and the Garrett Corporation, Air Research Division, conducted a research program to develop a small, lightweight water purifier for the Apollo spacecraft that would require minimal power and would not need to be monitored around-the-clock by astronauts in orbit.

Water filtration – Best Invention

The 9-ounce purifier, slightly larger than a cigarette pack and completely chlorine-free, dispensed silver ions into the spacecraft’s water supply to successfully kill off bacteria. A NASA Technical Brief released around the time of the research reported that the silver ions did not ‘impart an unpleasant taste to the water.'”

Not long after this, companies like Carefree Clearwater Limited acquired permission to manufacture modified versions of the space agency’s Electrolytic Silver Ion Cell for commercial and industrial purposes.  

9. Better tires

After the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company invented the material used in NASA’s Viking Lander parachute shrouds, the company began using it in its everyday radial tires. The material is stronger than steel and adds thousands of miles of life to the tires.

10. Wireless headsets

Another space-age spin-off is the wireless headset. Originally developed for astronauts during the Apollo program in the 1960s, they were first commercialized in the 1970s. During the 70s, the technology was refined and miniaturized for airline pilots and has since become ubiquitous for use in business and pleasure. 

Wireless headsets – Best Inventions

Perhaps the most famous use of the original headphones was when Neil Armstrong delivered his immortal quote, during the first manned mission to the Moon. So, the next time you use a wireless headphone, remember that you are wearing a piece of history. 

11. Adjustable smoke detector

In partnership with the Honeywell Corporation, NASA improved smoke detector technology in the 1970s, creating a unit with adjustable sensitivity to avoid constant false alarms.

12. Camera phones

The cameras in modern mobile phones can partially trace their origins to the work of NASA/JPL scientist Eric Fossum, which centered around the miniaturization of cameras for interplanetary missions. To achieve this miniaturization, Fossum developed complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors that have now become widespread. 

Imaging devices using CMOS had been attempted before, but no one had succeeded in making the technology marketable because the CMOS-generated images tended to suffer from signal noise and other issues.

Fossum’s insight was to take advantage of a charge-coupled device (CCD) technology to help improve the quality. This resulted in the creation of CMOS active pixel sensors.

This technology has since come to dominate the digital imaging industry. It also effectively paved the way for the incorporation of miniature cameras within smartphones and other devices.

13. CAT scans

Another product of the Apollo program, CAT scans are today a vital medical diagnostic tool.

First developed to identify imperfections in aerospace structures and components, the technology was publically released in 1993. 

Designed to be added to an existing real-time radiography system, its components include a high precision rotation/elevation manipulator, color image monitor, graphical user interface monitor, and PC compatible workstation.

Cross-sectional CT images are more detailed than radiographic images and the high-speed scanning feature offers the capability for 100 percent inspection in a production environment.

14. Baby formula

Many commercially available infant formulas contain nutritional enrichment ingredients that were originally devised by NASA. The agency was exploring the potential for algae to be used as a recycling agent for long-duration space travel. This eventually led to the creation of algae-based vegetable oil, later called Formulaid.

This additive was later commercially produced at Martek Biosciences Corporation in Maryland, by former NASA scientists who worked on the original project in the 1980s. They received a U.S. patent for Formulaid in 1994.

Formulaid has been touted as highly beneficial to infant mental and visual development and is also considered a good dietary supplement. The reason for this is that it contains two essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. 

These are known as Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Arachidonic Acid (ARA). These two fatty acids can also be found in human milk and tended to be lacking in most instant formulas developed for young infants.

Both of these fatty acids have been shown to be very important for brain development, as well as being concentrated in human retinas. Despite their apparent importance, these fatty acids cannot be synthesized by the human body and, therefore, need to be assimilated from the diet.

Today, Formulaid is found in most enriched baby foods in the U.S., and as an additive to infant formulas in more than 75 countries around the world.

15. Lifeshears

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.

16. Grooved pavement

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.

17. Air purifier

The humble air purifier is yet another piece of space-age spin-off tech. The technology was originally developed by NASA in order to help astronauts grow plants in space, and potentially on other worlds.

Back in the 1990s, NASA was looking for a way to remove ethylene from the air, in order to prevent plants from aging and fruit from ripening too soon. This led to the development of an ethylene scrubber that uses titanium oxide and UV light to chemically convert ethylene into trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide. 

The first working model was launched on the Space Shuttle Columbia and installed onboard the ISS in 1995. Since then, the technology has been adapted for commercial and domestic air purifiers that you are probably familiar with. 

18. Memory foam

Memory foam was first developed by NASA in 1966. The original brief was to make customizable seats for astronauts, in order to alleviate, in part, the effects of G-forces during takeoff and landing.

Engineers soon realized that the large variability in astronauts’ physiques could cause a problem. They also noted that their body shapes change as they train. This would mean, in theory, that individual customized seats might need to be adjusted for every flight. This was far from practical and finding another solution was imperative.

This solution was to devise a material that could mold the astronaut’s shape and then return to its ‘rest’ state when not in use, hence the term “memory” foam. NASA finally released memory foam into the public domain in the early 1980s.

Memory foam

Although initially very expensive to replicate by private enterprises, the cost of manufacture has dropped dramatically over time. Today, memory foam can be found in products ranging from mattresses to football helmet liners, and many other applications.

Most modern-day memory foam consists primarily of polyurethane, with some other additives to increase its viscosity and density – depending on the application. The foam varies widely between manufacturers, who consider the formulas a closely guarded secret.

19. Workout machines

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.

20. Home insulation

NASA began experimenting with insulation technology for the Apollo space crafts and suits, leading to the invention of common construction insulation.

21. Infrared thermometers

NASA collaborated with Diatek Corporation to develop the infrared aural thermometer. This device measures thermal radiation emitted by the patient’s eardrum in much the same way the temperature of stars and planets is measured.

It does this by inferring the temperature based on the thermal radiation emitted by the object being measured. Each device consists of a lens, which focuses light from the object being measured onto a detector, called a thermophile, which absorbs the infrared radiation and converts it into an electrical signal.

The device compensates for ambient temperature and converts the signal to temperature, which is then displayed. The thermometer was developed with the support of NASA, through its Technology Affiliates Program.

The immediate benefit of this type of thermometer is that it avoids contact with mucous membranes, reducing the risk of infection, and so can be easily reused without needing to be sterilized first.  Today they are used in a wide range of applications, from monitoring hot spot temperatures in mechanical and electrical systems to checking patient temperatures.

22. Ice-resistant airplanes

Ice is a real threat for shuttles in space, and 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. Now, every time we travel, this is no problem, thanks to one of the best inventions of Space Age.

Ice-resistant airplanes

23. Portable computer

The first portable computer, the Grid Compass, was used on multiple shuttle missions in the 1980s. Nicknamed SPOC (Shuttle Portable On-Board Computer), the computer could communicate with onboard devices and was used to launch satellites off space shuttles.

The Compass ran its own operating system, GRiD-OS. Its specialized software and high price (US$8,000–$10,000) meant that it was limited to specialized applications. The main buyer was the U.S. government.

NASA used it on the Space Shuttle during the early 1980s, as it was powerful, lightweight, and compact. The military Special Forces also purchased the machine, as it could be used by paratroopers in combat.

Portable Computer – Best Inovations

24. LEDs

Intended for use to help in growing plants aboard space shuttles, NASA’s LED technology has been utilized in the development of LED medical devices that relax muscles and relieve pain in soldiers, cancer patients, and those with Parkinson’s disease.

25. 3D food printing

The ability to cook food on long space missions is no longer impossible with the invention of 3D food printers. This technology is now being refined for commercial use for the production of chocolates and other confections as well as to create nutritious foods for diabetics and others with specific dietary needs.

26. Computer mouse

The humble computer mouse is yet another product of the space-age. Although you probably never give it a second thought today, these were revolutionary just a few decades ago.

The device started out as “one small and relatively simple component” of a broader goal, according to Bob Taylor, who provided NASA funding for research that led to the device in the early 1960s. Taylor and Doug Englebart (who worked on mouse tech at Stanford Research Institute) wanted to find a way to make computers more interactive and intuitive to use. 

27. Athletic shoes

NASA changed athletic shoe construction quite truly where the rubber meets the road. A process known as “blow rubber molding” used in producing helmets was applied to create hollow athletic shoe soles designed to be filled with shock-absorbing materials. Following the establishment of this new molding process, a former NASA engineer named Frank Rudy pitched an idea for a suitable shock absorber to the Nike Corporation. Rudy’s concept used a pad made of interconnected air cells placed under the heel and forefoot to cushion the blow. Sound familiar? With Rudy’s pitch, Nike Air was born.

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