“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
— Neil Armstrong
This past Saturday, American space hero Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82. He was the first man to set foot on the moon, and those famous words — along with his legacy — will surely outlive him.
Such a lingering presence isn’t uncommon for NASA, though. Its missions into space have awed and inspired, and many of its inventions have done the same — and subsequently have become part of our everyday lives.
NASA has documented more than 1,500 spinoffs, and many have helped build businesses, or even create whole companies. Here’s a look at just a few of them: five companies that owe a debt of thanks to Armstrong and the rest of NASA’s pioneers.
While Converse’s Chuck Taylor shoes were (and are) popular, they’re been ousted for the most part for a more supportive style of athletic shoe. And while no moon boots, that shoe was forged thanks to NASA.
The agency developed a process called “blow rubber molding” to produce lighter-weight helmets and, in the 1980s, one of its former engineers pitched a similar technology to Nike (NYSE:NKE). The idea was to create a hollow athletic sole filled with shock-absorbing material.
So, the popular Nike Air line was born — and that technology is now used for all kinds of basketball and athletic shoes that have followed in its footsteps.
NASA didn’t stop at shoes, though. It also helped spice up the game of golf. And while Nike does have an increasing popular line of golf gear, perhaps no company is more directly affected by space-age advances than Callaway (NYSE:ELY), which gets all its sales from golf gear.
For example, the Ben Hogan Company — today, one of Callaway’s brands — used imaging technology to help give its ball the best possible flight. Wilson Sporting Goods Co. also used NASA’s three-dimensional computer graphics to perfect the surface of a golf ball, and the medium-sized dimples it found were optimal soon became the gold standard.
For Callaway, that means improvements to a product that made up just less than 20% of its sales in 2011. And NASA also helped some of the remaining 80%, improving golf clubs thanks to the agency’s development of graphite composite.
If all that running around or those daily rounds of golf make you tired, don’t worry — NASA still has your back. It created pressure-absorbing material to help cushion and support astronauts during lift-off — a material now more commonly known as memory foam, used to make really comfy beds.
Tempur-Pedic (NYSE:TPX) used this technology — after Swedish scientists further built on the basics — to kick off what would soon become a global company. I’m sure you’ve seen the famous wine glass test — where a glass of red wine doesn’t spill, even as a person jumps on the other side of the bed. If it weren’t for NASA and memory foam technology, you’d have a red bed.
That same memory foam also is used in everything from saddles to football helmets to amusement park rides — all because NASA wanted its pilots to be more comfortable.
Sure, tech giant Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is itself an innovator that has revolutionized personal technology. And while the Samsung patent lawsuit victory shows that other companies want in on Apple’s best ideas, the basics of this trailblazing company’s products have their origins in space.
NASA, for one, invented the camera on a chip — the basic technology behind the cameras on cell phones, including the iPhone.
Of course, Apple’s not the only tech company to benefit from such technology. Mobile manufacturers the world over, like Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK), include cameras in their phones, while companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Garmin (NASDAQ:GRMN) utilize GPS technology.
And that’s not all when it comes to technology that we take for granted. The popular and convenient mouse style that is standard with computers was developed in part by NASA scientist Bob Taylor, who steered NASA funding toward the device that would make the computer-user experience more interactive and a whole lot easier.
That model is practically mundane in our lives (although less popular with the advent of laptops), but it created big business for several companies. First to mind is Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI), a manufacturer widely known for selling the pointing devices.
NASA’s effect doesn’t end there for Logitech, though. The company also creates controllers for PC gamers, including joysticks — also a NASA design that originally was used to help control Apollo landings.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.