As I type this post, NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity, is currently traveling the landscape of Mars to judge whether the Red Planet ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life. Since landing on August 5th, NASA’s goal is to not only understand the planet’s past, but to also help answer the dogged question on where to search for life on other planets.
NASA’s advancements in technology have allowed us to answer questions that only decades ago were the stuff that made up science fiction novels. However, some of these advancements made by NASA have not just inspired otherworldly travel. Inventions as simple as invisible braces and long-distance telecommunications link back to early NASA experiments.
Have you ever dropped your pair of eyeglasses on the ground? Everyone has at one time or another, but the lenses most likely won’t break. Why not? You can thank NASA for that advancement as well.
Starting in 1972, the FDA recruited manufacturers to use plastic rather than glass to make lenses. Not only were plastics not prone to shattering – and thus, safer to wear – they were cheaper, better at absorbing ultraviolet radiation, and lighter for the wearer. It seems like there would be no question whether to use plastics or not; however, there was one catch: uncoated plastics tended to scratch easily and would ultimately impair a person’s sight.
However, it wasn’t NASA that immediately stepped forward to solve the FDA’s request. Instead, it was the Foster-Grant sunglasses manufacturer who recognized the opportunity to utilize NASA’s special coating technology, which the agency used to protect its space equipment from dirt and particles in space environments, on its eyewear products.
The result? The sunglasses with NASA’s special plastics coating were ten times more scratch-resistant than uncoated plastics.
So while most of us will never set foot on the moon – or, who knows, Mars someday – most of us encounter a NASA by-product every day. It’s fitting for NASA, an agency that was created by President Eisenhower in 1958 after he signed the Space Act that stipulated that its research and advancements should benefit all people.