Recently, NASA landed Curiosity on the surface of Mars. Curiosity will explore the red planet and send back pictures and data that NASA will analyze for years, but the mission wasn't cheap. The $2.5 billion price tag has left some Americans in sticker shock given the ballooning budget deficit, but NASA argues that this mission gives us a better understanding of Mars. Engineering missions of this complexity have a long history of producing technology that finds its way into our everyday lives. Here are just a few of those.
You've likely never heard of translucent polycrystalline alumina, but if you have invisible braces, you have a whole mouth full of it. NASA, in conjunction with another company, developed the material to protect infrared antennae and now dental companies use it for invisible braces.
Using a process called direct ion deposition, a thin layer of diamond-like carbon (DLC) makes glasses 10 times more scratch resistant than conventional lenses. In addition, this coating is more water resistant allowing water to run off lenses without spotting.
NASA originally developed memory foam to lessen impact during landings, but the material is now used commercially in a variety of ways. Most know memory foam as the material used to make mattresses and pillows more comfortable. It's also used to lessen the friction between prosthetic limbs and as protection for racecar drivers.
Riblets are small grooves barely visible to the naked eye. No deeper than a scratch, they have a surprisingly large effect on the aerodynamics of aircraft wings. Now, riblets are used in pipes to reduce friction and on yachts used for racing. For a brief time, NASA partnered with Speedo to develop a competitive swimsuit using riblets, but it was banned from competition after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
NASA knows how to take a temperature. It had been doing it for years by using infrared technology to take the temperature of stars. Diatek, a company that wanted to reduce the amount of time nurses were using to take patients' temperatures, used NASA infrared technology to develop the ear thermometer.