NASA and the U.S. Military: Inventions That Went from Tactical to Practical

Making this list awakened a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. I had always thought to myself that a significant portion of things I use on a day to day basis was invented by NASA or the Army, but I had no clue just how many inventions came from the both of them. It’s quite fascinating, but it also made me sad, so many things on this list make you think, “really, there was no need to invent a more comfortable mattress until NASA needed one?” However, in another sense, that’s the way it has always been. The military has its needs, and those needs need to meet to win the battle, and NASA has her needs, and without fulfilling them, there would be no space age. So, without further ado, here is my list of 40 technological advancements of humankind that all spanned from NASA, and the United States Military. Let me know if I missed any, or if there are any facts I may have missed!

Artificial Limbs

Artificial limbs have evolved from just a pegged leg of the 1700s to the fake plastic legs of the 1940s, and all the way to the state-of-the-art carbon fiber limbs of the 21st century.

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This new prosthetic technology stems from NASA’s innovative robotics, artificial muscle inventions meant to provide astronauts with more efficient ways to keep correct posture and develop healthy muscles in zero gravity.

Smoke Detectors

What does opening a luxury hotel have in common with sending humans to space? You need to think of every little detail, from the food to the curtains, and even minute details such as what kind of soap to provide for the guests. NASA engineers work countless hours and leave no stone unturned to ensure their astronauts with the safest most comfortable trip possible.

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One of the most significant things they needed to think of was the fire detector. You know because no one likes a fire in space. The modern fire detector you have in your house today is the direct result of NASA engineering.

Solar Energy

Alternative energy today is one of the most critical issues of modern times. One of the most common alternative energy sources in existence today is solar energy. Solar energy is the harnessing of the sun’s light rays and the conversion of that light into convertible energy. The need for such an energy actually had nothing to do with the environment.

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The very first solar panels were invented by NASA with the mission of powering space ships, satellites, and space stations without having to use tons and tons of very flammable fuel.

Infrared Ear Thermometers

Before infrared ear thermometers humans used measuring devices filled with a chemical called zinc, that reacts to the heat in your body and expands naturally in the device measuring your body heat in the process, but in zero gravity, chemicals do not behave the same as they do in gravity.

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To be able to measure accurate body temperatures, NASA scientist engineered infrared ear thermometers that within seconds give you the most precise body temp reading you can get, and even store it as data for studies.

Workout Machines

Given the fact that the human body evolved on Earth in a gravitational environment, the human body does not react the same in space as it does on our home planet. In zero gravity the body is virtually weightless, almost like it is when you are floating in the water.

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Because your body is weightless, your muscles don’t metabolize the same as they would in a gravitational biome. Thus, NASA needed to invent a way for astronauts to exercise in space so their body’s stay active and healthy. So, you can thank outer space for being able to exercise at home!

Insulin Pumps

Once NASA realized that they could send humans into space, the next step became to be able to send astronauts into space for long periods of time, and even build them their very own space stations, but because the body goes through so many changes in space, many different vital signs need to be continuously monitored.

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One of those vital body measures is blood sugar, giving birth to the insulin, a life-saving device that tracks your blood sugar, and injects you with insulin when needed without having to break the skin.

Freeze Drying

Throughout this article, we will be going through different food facts of space travel. So, I don’t want to give away too much. However, let’s talk about freeze dried food! Freeze dried was a way for NASA to answer both the need of giving astronauts a way to eat and enjoy what they’re eating, along with making sure there is no chance of bacteria entering the food.

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When food is freeze-dried, it looks and feels almost like Styrofoam, but once mixed with saliva, freeze-dried food feels as close as it can to the real thing when consumed. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. It’s in stores everywhere!

Invisible Braces

Almost every child in the modern world, at one point or another, has to go through the terrible ordeal of getting braces to straighten them teeth! I too went through the torture of getting braces at the late age of 16.

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Yep, the middle of high school! Luckily, NASA’s chemical engineering was able to make a unique invisible material that is both strong and safe to substitute standard braces with ones that made me stand out less, but make sure you brush daily with those things, trust me!

Water Filters

Different water filtering solutions have been introduced throughout the years, but the idea for a personal water filtration system came first from NASA. Scientist in NASA needed to be able to ensure that astronauts going into space had the cleanest bacteria free water they can get.

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One small virus could be a disastrous danger not just to the sick person on the shuttle but the whole crew. Not to mention how much it costs to extract a person from space to a hospital.

Portable Cordless Vacuum

The cordless vacuum today is an essential device for any busy parent, or college dorm resident who wants to keep their room clean on the go. However, this was not its original purpose. The first cordless vacuums were invented not for the purpose of dusting a space ship, but to be able to collect moon dust.

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Why not just pick it up? The gloves that astronauts wore on the moon were very big and made it hard to do tasks with your hands like collecting dust. The vacuum made sample collecting a lot more efficient and faster without compromising the mission too much.

Ribbed Swimsuits

The Ribbed Swimsuit was not entirely an invention meant to make space traveling easier or safer. It was more a marketing project between NASA and Speedo.


Speedo wanted to invent a new swimming material that would make swimming faster than ever. Giving birth to the “Riblet” swimsuit that was first showcased in the 2008 Olympics.


Had it not been for space, the home you sleep in today would be a lot colder in the winter, and especially because of global warming, a lot hotter in the summer months.

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The reason home temperatures can be somewhat tamed is because of the NASA invention of wall insulating materials to protect the shuttle from the scorching sun rays that pass through the spacecraft.

Memory Foam

I remember the very first time I saw a Tempurpedic bed commercial on T.V. I was only about five or eight years old at the time, but it was very fascinating to me how comfortable those beds looked, and I wanted nothing more than to see what one feels like.

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However, these NASA invented beds are very expensive, and it would be years later before I could even try a pillow, let alone a mattress.

Super Soaker

Lonnie G. Johnson is a NASA engineer whose work assisted in sending astronauts on space missions and developing stealth technology.

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However, did you know he also invented the Super Soaker? It was introduced in 1989 and had the ability to shoot water faster and further, allowing you to drench your enemies more efficiently compared to previous squirt guns on the toy market.

Baby Formula

Although we had talked about freeze dried food, it was nowhere near the first type of food astronauts were able to eat in space. During the early manned space voyages, NASA was not too interested on prioritizing food being delicious in space.

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The first type of food astronauts would eat was basically meals blended into a paste and consumed through pouches.

Space Blankets Were the Result of Research by NASA

I can say as a former combat medic with field experience, that had it not been for the invention of space blankets, it would be tough to save lives not just for soldiers, but for all types of medical situations.


These blankets are very unique as they are incredibly insulated and vital when trying to keep a person warm in traumatic expectances. The material used for these blankets was actually first used on spaceships and satellites. I would not recommend taking a nap with one though unless you want to sweat like a linebacker.

Food Safety (HACCP)

Before humans were going to space, health codes were much more relaxed as far as how to clean factories need to be when producing mass quantities of food. In the early stages of space exploration, NASA had teamed up with Pillsbury to dig in deeper into what needs to be happened to keep packaged food 99.99% bacteria free, and the project was a great success.


The U.S. government was so impressed in fact that it passed the HACCP requiring all food processing companies to follow suit in new sanitation regulations. So next time you open a bag of chips, thank NASA for how fresh they are!

Embedded Web Technology Paved the Way for IoT

IoT stands for the Internet of Things. What does that mean, you ask? Exactly what you just read! IoT basically stands for all the miscellaneous different apps, and gadgets that you can use with the help of your local WIFI, or phone data.


Anything from your smart car to your phone connected refrigerators, IoT is slowly making its way into every day to day product we use. IoT would not be possible without the help of NASA launched satellites.

Nike Air

When I was seven years old, I remember getting my first pair of Iverson’s basketball sneaks. I was so proud to have my own phat pair b-ball shoes finally, that’s until I saw the Nike Air’s and again felt as if I was in the out.

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However, these shoes would not exist had it not been for the composite material invented by NASA that they’re iconic look is made out of.

Wireless Headphones

Wireless headphones are a relatively new concept in the civilian tech market. A new pair of wireless headsets can cost anywhere between 10 dollars to 500 hundred bucks.

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There has been a lot of speculation on the health concerns on prolonged usage of wireless headsets, but regardless, the comfort of not having to worry about tangled wires is going to be hard to come back from. The first type of wireless sets was actually produced for NASA pilots as to keep them from having to worry about tangling up there in that ship.

The Mouse

To be honest, I don’t know that the computer mouse is going to be around for much longer. There was a time when a mouse was essential for anyone who uses a computer to work. Yet today we see the use of tablets going up, and the use of standard computers going down.


The mouse will still retain its market weight for at least another 50 years, but it won’t be around forever, and just like it was invented by NASA, it will probably get outdated by NASA as well.


The laptop is also a product that although a need existed for it outside the space industry, the funding did not come to really produce them until NASA needed one too. Some of the very first laptops ever used were both in mission control and in the space ships themselves.


Imagine how slow they worked, imagine trying to stay calm on a space ship when your laptop takes 5 minutes just to switch pages. I would have had a panic attack up there. Now that we covered all of NASA’s great inventions, let’s take a look at some of the devices that came out of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Night Vision

The first versions of night vision were in the early production stages towards the end of world war two, and by the mid cold war both allied forces, and the Soviets each had their own version of it. However, the quality and visibility of it lacked very much then.

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Today night vision is computerized and made both for helmets, tanks, planes, and Navy vessels. Modern night vision uses the light from stars on a green screen that paints a picture of the ground around you just from that light. Today all airline pilots have the ability to use night vision and make sure that you are flying safely at night.


As a young boy, the GPS or Global Positioning Device was a relatively new invention. First developed by the U.S. military, the GPS helps soldiers, and civilians alike get from point A to point B without an issue.


Almost all apps today, no matter what these apps do, they practically all use GPS to collect all types of data that coincides with your location when you use them. GPS changed the way we travel, live, and have become something we almost rely on as a society.


The Humvee is one of the first Military grade vehicles that made it from a tactical production line and moved into a civilian production line as well. Hummers boasted a big powerful engine and were first deployed in the ’90s as a replacement for the older Jeep’s that were used during the cold war, and WW2.

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Although the Humvee has made a significant mark in society, it also has a big carbon footprint and guzzles gas like no other. So, there are not many on the road outside of the military today.

Hand Held Sonar Devices

The very first sonar technology was introduced in submarines starting in WW2, this technology evolved so much that today Navy seals underwater can each have their own handheld underwater sonar to help them locate and neutralize targets under the ocean,


but this technology has also been beneficial for fishermen, and sailors alike to know what’s down below them on the ocean floor, either getting the next big catch or staying away from underwater sand dunes, or schools of sharks.


When I was five years old, I had a big inflatable alligator that I would sit on top of at the pool and use as a boat as I pretended to sail across the world. Little did I know that this inflatable technology would not exist without the help of naval engineering.

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I’m sure they were using this tech for things that had nothing to do with inflatable floating animals, but regardless, I’m glad they found a way to build stuff for children too, not just soldiers.


Drone technology has been around for quite a while actually, with the first drones being radio controlled bombs towards the end of WW2 all the way to the modern Cessna sized military drones that we see today.

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Military drones can use solar technology to stay in the air for sometimes weeks and hover over their targets as they wait for a chance to strike. Today, however, drones are also used for peaceful purposes like awesome wedding videos, or even city tours form your computer.

Light Off-Road Vehicles

What exactly is a light off-road vehicle? These are vehicles like four-wheeled ATV’s or dirt bikes, for instance.


The very first light off-road vehicles were three-wheeled motorcycles used by the Germans in WW2. Remember that next time you get in dune buggy thinking, “I wonder where these came from? ”

Spy Gear

We all remember watching 007 movies as children, and then growing up we get to be spies one day too! After all, they get to use the coolest gadgets known to man.


Today you can go to any gadget store and probably get all the different devices that spies use to get the information they need. Today you can get yourself a camera pen, or bugging equipment, and even have someone install it for you! No need to go to spy school anymore!


Playing with laser pointers is one of the most fun things I ever did as a youngster. Pointing it at random windows in the neighborhood, or at the wall for my dogs to chase, but lasers were actually developed less for fun and more for tactical solutions,


either to mark targets for tanks, planes, and ships or to collect data on distance between you and the target. Military lasers are much stronger and very dangerous if pointed at any innocent bystanders.


Parachutes may seem like something that has existed at least for a hundred years, but the truth is, they only came around at around WW2, and the very first military jump happen the night of the 5th of June, 1944, the night before the invasion of Normandy. Today, for a relatively decent price, you can go up in the are and take a jump of your own and even get to free fall for a little while before you pull that shoot.


You couldn’t pay me to do something like also if god folded the parachute himself, I would stay as far away as I could.


Jet Skiing is one of the most fun summer water sports anyone has ever done, and should ever do, but the very first versions were actually way too fast, and too hard to control.

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Today, it’s pretty easy to climb back on the ski after dipping your head in the water.

Wearable Communications Gear

Before there was the iWatch or anything like it, humans would communicate with some type of portable communications gear.

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If anything, it all started with pigeons in WW1, and today it’s the iWatch that we can send texts from on the go. Being able to communicate on the go has taken human production, and business growth to levels humans would not have even dreamt of 100 years ago.


Simulation has been a priority for the military since the first dog fight simulators of WW1, which were basically almost like mechanical bulls with machine guns attached to them. It has become an integral part of training to make sure soldiers are calm and know what they are doing on the battlefield.

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Simulation technology has evolved dramatically in the past decade with companies like boing even using tablet sized simulators to teach pilots about new technology on their planes. I used to get my hours out playing Microsoft flight simulator as a child too!

Video Games

Ahh, video games! I think, I’m not sure, but I think that I am the first generation of adults that will be playing video games all the way until my late eighty’s.

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Yes, they are counterproductive, but these simulator spawned games have become so realistic that it’s almost irresistible not to have an hour or two of adventure playing them. The very first computer games to record were used to test pilot cadet coordination.


Anyone who has been in either a sports game, a bar, or a protest, or even high school health class has seen a taser go off or at least has been explained what they are, but in case you have no clue. A taser is a device that is supposed to substitute lethal force and neutralize a threat. They were first produced for police forces to be able to neutralize resisting assailants, and have since been made legal to use for the public.

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Many young people who go out at night prefer to walk around with tasers if they have to cross through dangerous neighborhoods.

Four Wheel Drive

The first four-wheel drive vehicles came from the U.S. Army in the form of the classic Jeep we’ve all seen in the movies, and today four wheels have become a standard feature in sports cars, trucks, and even hatchbacks all made for civilian use.

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Four-wheel drive helps especially in wet weather, and snow, and keeps cars safer on the road, and more efficient off-road.

Hybrid Vehicles

A hybrid vehicle essentially is a vehicle that charges itself from its own power source with a mix of both fuel and electricity.

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One of the first hybrid style vehicles were submarines, and the technology has since morphed into commercial usage with the creation of the first commercial hybrid car, the Toyota Prius.

Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars are a technology that has been around for many few years. The military really has not gotten right just yet, and the person ahead of the curb is actually entrepreneur Ilan Musk.

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Musk heads the car manufacture company “Tesla,” and has made the first fully functional self-driving car in the world, but who knows maybe there were some classified projects we don’t even know about.

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