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NASA space inventions for everyday Earthlings

Donna Coutts, January 29, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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View of Earth from the International Space Station taken by astronaut Nick Hague as he prepared to return home from his six-month stay in space in October 2019. Picture: Nick Hague/NASA/AFP media_cameraView of Earth from the International Space Station taken by astronaut Nick Hague as he prepared to return home from his six-month stay in space in October 2019. Picture: Nick Hague/NASA/AFP


Reading level: green

Are you reading Kids News on a laptop? Moving the cursor* on your screen with a mouse?

Or perhaps you’re shuffling your hi-tech, super-comfy sports shoes under the desk.

So many of the inventions that make modern life on Earth safer, more efficient and more fun come from NASA or from a company helping NASA solve a space problem.

And as NASA spends a lot of money (its 2020 budget is $33.44 billion!) and only a lucky few humans will get to travel into space this year, it’s great news that those of us stuck back here on Earth still get to play with and use some space gear.

media_cameraNASA astronauts Richard Arnold (left) and Andrew Feustel (centre) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev wave from a bus shortly before leaving to board the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft on March 21, 2018. Back on Earth, we get to use lots of the inventions intended to help the astronauts while they’re in space. Picture: AFP

Here are some of Kids News’ favourite space inventions on Earth. Which is your favourite?

Do you have a pair of these? NASA suit technology is behind these popular shoes. A former NASA engineer first came up with the idea of transferring the space technology to Earth shoes.

Shoe Dudes media_cameraA type of Nike Air sports shoe called the Jordan 4 Thunder

In the 1960s, the mouse came about because a NASA researcher was trying to find ways of making computers more interactive*.

Astronauts could easily get tangled up in wires, so NASA developed wireless, hands-free headsets to allow astronauts to float free while talking and listening.

In the 1990s, a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, US, developed a camera small enough to fit on a spaceship but able to take photos good enough for scientific use.

Apple's iPhone 11 Goes On Sale media_cameraA photographer holds an iPhone 11 Pro. Tiny cameras were developed in the 1990s so they could take high-quality photos on spacecraft. Picture: Getty Images

NASA asked appliance company Black & Decker to help it develop something to collect samples on the moon. Black & Decker then used its technology to launch the Dustbuster cordless vacuum cleaner in 1979.

Vaccuum media_cameraSince Black & Decker launched the Dustbuster in 1979, many other companies have made their own version, including this one by Electrolux.

Red LEDs are used on Earth by doctors to help heal wounds. In space, NASA uses red LEDs to grow food plants. LED stands for Light Emitting Diodes.

Once upon a time you had to put a glass thermometer under your tongue to check if you had a fever. Now, doctors accurately take your temperature by shining an infra-red light into your ear, which measures the energy (heat) coming out of your ear. NASA and a company called Diatek developed the aural* thermometer.

media_cameraAn official uses a version of the infra-red thermometer at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, China, screening people who have a high temperature as part of efforts to control the spread of the new coronavirus on Tuesday, January 21, 2020. Picture: AP

It’s very hot or very cold in space, so NASA developed insulation for its spacecraft from aluminised (foil-coated) polyester. On Earth, similar products are now used to help keep houses warm in winter and cool in summer.

When there’s a bad road accident, emergency services workers use a piece of equipment called the jaws of life to free anyone trapped in a vehicle. It’s a miniature version of the explosive device that separates pods, shuttles, rockets and other equipment from each other in space.

Epping volunteer firefighters show members of the public how jaws of life machinery can be used to rescue people from car crashes. media_cameraVolunteer firefighters demonstrate how the jaws of life machinery can be used to rescue people from car crashes.

These lightweight, inexpensive, metallic sheets help warm a person if their body temperature has become dangerously low after a cold night lost in the bush or too long in cold water. The material was developed to protect equipment and people in extreme temperatures in space.

media_cameraA woman wrapped in a survival foil blanket after being rescued from the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. Picture: AFP

Here are some other inventions and innovations that were developed to meet the needs of NASA and other space agencies around the world. Do you know of more?

  • Portable computer
  • Nutrients in baby formula
  • Water purification
  • Flare that destroy landmines
  • CAT scan
  • Scratch-resistant glasses lens
  • Memory foam
  • Freeze-dried food
  • Shock absorption technology in artificial limbs
  • Hurricane tracking
  • Better car tyre material
  • Non-slip grooves in concrete footpaths
  • More efficient solar power

Source: NASA

media_cameraA view from the International Space Station of Hurricane Florence off the US east coast on September 10, 2018. NASA and other satellite and weather monitoring technology help us predict with greater accuracy where hurricanes will strike. Picture: AFP/NASA/Ricky Arnold

Many people think a fruity drink powder called Tang and a non-stick surface for saucepans called Teflon were invented by NASA.

Although astronaut John Glenn drank Tang in space in 1962, it was developed by a company called General Foods, now Kraft Foods.

Teflon was invented by plastics company DuPont in 1938.


  • cursor: movable indicator on a computer screen
  • interactive: two people or things able to interact with or influence the other
  • aural: to do with hearing


Worms and mice at International Space Station

Baking choc chip cookies in space

Space burgers coming right up!

Pack your bags for a space holiday


  1. Why would you need a Dustbuster on the moon?
  2. What sort of light do thermometers use?
  3. What space invention is the Jaws of Life based on?
  4. What do we use foil blankets for on Earth?
  5. What year was Teflon invented? What is it?


1. A troublesome tale
Many of the space inventions in this news article are used daily to avoid or solve problems. Imagine what life would be like without them! Can you write a tale of a troublesome day where at least 5 things go wrong that can be solved by using space inventions?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Think about which of these inventions has had the greatest and most far-reaching impact on human life. Decide which one you think is the most important and then write a paragraph to explain your choice.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your favourite space invention for Earthlings? Is there something used in space you’d like to use back on Earth?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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