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Apollo space program spawned technologies, products still in use

By Brooks Hays
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Apollo space program spawned technologies, products still in use
The Apollo program spawned consumer product hits based on things created out of mission requirements, including wireless headsets. File Photo courtesy of NASA

July 4 (UPI) -- It's true that NASA has been erroneously credited with inventing a handful of technologies and products -- Tang, Velcro and computer chips, to name a few -- but America's space agency really is responsible for a variety of innovations that are still in use.

When scientists with NASA's Apollo Space Mission needed a drill to collect core samples from the lunar surface, they got in touch with engineers at Black and Decker. Researchers at the tool company developed a computer program to perfect the drill technology. The model helped engineers boost motor power while minimizing power use.

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According to Interesting Engineering, the same computer program was later used by Black and Decker to develop a handheld, cordless vacuum cleaner, which became known as the Dustbuster. The creation of the lunar drill paved the way for the development of a variety of lightweight, cordless electric tools.

As NASA prepared to send astronauts to the moon, they needed to make everything as lightweight as possible, including the astronauts' spacesuits. In the 1970s, engineers with the Apollo mission began using a process called "blow rubber molding."

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After pouring melted rubber into a mold, engineers injected it with air, creating a hollow rubber structure. NASA engineer Frank Rudy pitched the technology to the Nike Corp. A layer of blow rubber molding could be injected with lightweight shock-absorbing materials and used to replace all-rubber soles. The technology inspired a new wave of high-performance athletic shoes.

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Before NASA technology made it easier to dunk a basketball, space agency scientists teamed up with the communications technology company Pacific Plantronics to develop a wireless headset that could be embedded in the helmets of the Apollo astronauts.

"By participating with the space program, Pacific Plantronics -- now called Plantronics Inc. -- gained recognition," according to NASA. "The company credits its ongoing success to the collaboration with NASA and the agency's use of the jointly developed technology."

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Apollo engineers also developed sophisticated computer software capable of managing the many electrical systems onboard the Apollo capsules. The software was eventually tweaked and used to develop credit card swiping technology.

Many of the Apollo program's innovations were designed to keep astronauts safe and comfortable -- as cheaply and efficiently as possible. NASA engineers wanted to ensure Apollo astronauts enjoyed a smooth ride by installing well-padded chairs. Each astronaut's body type was different, requiring different levels of support.

To avoid having to redesign and replace the chairs each time the crew turned over, scientists developed memory foam -- the foam that conforms to the contours of an individual's body but retains its shape when not being used. And then technology that kept astronauts from absorbing too many G forces went on to help Americans sleep at night.

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