Spacy Ideas That Came to Earth: Running Shoes, Mylar and Cordless Vacuums
ALLISON J. PUGH
Feb. 14, 1990
BOSTON (AP) _ The space program has given the world much more than moon rocks and glimpses of Saturn's rings - the earthbound have NASA to thank for lighter tennis rackets, more absorbent diapers and cordless power tools.
These and other spinoffs from space technology, part of a touring exhibit now at Boston's Museum of Science, are proof of how inventors and scientists, their eyes trained on the heavens, have improved day-to-day living for the average person.
The ingenuity that allows astronauts to work in space's extreme temperatures and weightlessness is also responsible for the digital personality Max Headroom, the cordless vacuum and computer software for makeup application.
''It's the 'Oh, gee whiz'' effect, when you look at the Dustbuster and you think it was first used to collect moon rocks and now we're having it collect our dust,'' said Roberta Gongwer, project coordinator at the museum.
The display helps students understand ''that space research helps our everyday lives,'' she said Wednesday.
The eight-city exhibit, put together by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, still has stops in Philadelphia, St. Paul, Minn., and Los Angeles before it winds up in April 1991.
The shiny, metallic material known as Mylar that covers most satellites and other space vehicles was invented to shield against radiation. On Earth, sunbathers use it to promote tanning and marathoners wrap themselves in it for warmth after a run.
The composite materials developed for stronger, less cumbersome spacecraft gave the American consumer a lighter, more powerful tennis racket. Boots that Neil Armstrong wore to take the first steps on the moon two decades ago were buoyed by a set of interlocking plastic coils that can be found today in millions of running shoes to cushion impact to the joints.
Freeze-dried foods that saved astronauts space and weight now perform the same function for hikers.
The tiny envelopes of freeze-dried cheese omelettes, sliced peaches and other foods did not impress second-graders from Mason Rice School in Newton on a recent tour.
''E-e-e-e-u-u-w-w. They eat that?'' the students said, noses pressed against the display cases.
Computer-enhanced photo maps helped NASA choose a landing site for the first manned lunar mission. The software that assigns numbers to the contours of the surface of the moon now allows companies such as Estee Lauder to track the topography of a customer's face for facials and make-up application.
Scientists created a joystick to help astronauts in clumsy spacesuits drive the Apollo lunar rover over the moon's surface. Today, paraplegics use the single-handed mechanism in cars for steering, accelerating and braking.
Super-absorbent diapers, scratch-resistant sunglasses, cordless power tools and the household lubricant known as WD-40 are some of the more lucrative spinoffs of space technology, according to the exhibit.
One of the display's goals is to show children that they, too, could become inventors, Gongwer said.
The message seemed to ring true for Isaac Doty, 11, who stood transfixed in front of a screen showing an image of Saturn.
Isaac's father, Paul Doty, said, ''He's a rocket scientist ... in our backyard, anyway.''