Two products are often mistakenly attributed to the space program:
- Teflon (actually invented by DuPont back in 1938)
- The powdered breakfast drink Tang (actually developed by General Foods, now Kraft Foods), even though it was on the menu when astronaut John Glenn ate and drank in space in 1962
One challenge with space exploration is that equipment must withstand radical conditions, from the heat of rocket exhaust to extreme cold in space. Surprisingly, one of the most destructive forces is the corrosive effect of saltwater-laden ocean spray and fog. It rusts gantries -- large frames that surround rocket launch sites -- and launch structures at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and other coastal facilities. Fortunately, in the 1970s, researchers at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center discovered that coating the equipment with a protective layer containing zinc dust and potassium silicate would help thwart the costly rusting.
In the early 1980s, a company called Inorganic Coatings Inc. used the concept to produce a nontoxic, water-based coating, IC 531 zinc silicate, which readily bonds with steel and dries within 30 minutes to a hard, ceramiclike finish. The coating has been applied to bridge girders, pipelines, oil rigs, dock equipment, buoys, tractor-trailer truck frames and even to the exteriors of U.S. Army tanks.
But perhaps the coating's most celebrated application came in the mid-1980s, when 225 gallons (852 liters) of it were applied to the inside of the Statue of Liberty, to help curb further deterioration of the century-old iconic figure [source: Space Foundation].
Next up, we'll meet technology with the ability to let us glimpse something as expansive as the cosmos and as tiny as the arteries traveling away from the human heart.