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If you’re a science nerd, and I bet you are, you have probably at some point in your life begged your mom to buy you a packet of freeze-dried ice cream in a museum gift shop.

“Oh my god,” thought young, idealistic you: “SPACE ICE CREAM? That’s like my two favorite things put together.”

Until you opened the foil pouch and bit off a big chunk of that dense Neapolitan brick.

Kind of nasty, right?

Luckily, no matter what happens in the years ahead, desiccated dessert is not the sole contribution that our much-beleaguered space program will be remembered for. Here is a rundown of just a few of the many NASA technological breakthroughs that have been commercialized and made part of our everyday world, whether we are aware of them or not:

Baby formula

Talk about the Milky Way: NASA’s research on microalgae for use in long-term spaceflight led to naturally-derived formulations of two nutrients, DHA and ARA, which can now be found in infant formula and 90% of baby food.

Speedo LZR Racer Suits

These are the insane swimsuits that led to a spate of broken world records by Michael Phelps and others at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They were developed in collaboration with a NASA lab whose wind tunnels were used to study the best ways of reducing drag and friction.
The Dustbuster

Yes, that’s right. Black & Decker were asked to develop some software for drilling core samples from the moon, which led, somewhat circuitously one would imagine, to the development of the cordless vacuum cleaner. From the Sea of Tranquility to the space between your couch cushions.

Memory-foam mattresses

OK, we’re all pretty familiar with this spin-off, since TV infomercials constantly harp on the NASA connection. But man, that foam…so comfortable it’s like taking a zero-gravity nap (and no, I’m not a paid endorser).

Better tires

Materials science has been one of the most fruitful areas of NASA trickle-down tech. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company developed a material for the parachutes on the Mars Viking Lander that soon revolutionized (no pun intended) the radial tire, giving 10,000 more miles of life compared to existing tires. Goodyear is still working with NASA on designs for future moon vehicles, and time will tell what new Earth-based products may result.

Ear thermometers

This quicker and more sanitary way of taking a patient’s temperature (it doesn’t have to come into contact with any mucous membranes) relies on infrared technology developed by NASA to measure the thermal radiation given off by your eardrum.

Medical LEDs

This one was new to me, but it sounds like an incredible piece of technology. Originally designed for growing plants in outer space, the Warp 75 LED device emits a bright red light that relaxes muscle tissue, increases blood flow, and eases pain. It’s currently being used on cancer patients to ease the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

There are many more such earthbound examples of NASA’s usefulness to mankind, but these should not be the sole measure of the program’s worth. Basic science is an inherent good, and any increase in our collective understanding of the universe around us should be valued in its own right. Whether the politicians get it or not, space is still where our destiny lies…even if the food sucks there.

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This has been a guest post by Susan Wells, a freelance blogger who enjoys writing about automotive and health news, technology, lifestyle and personal finance.

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