Spacecraft are subject to temperature extremes that range from 400° F above zero to 400° below zero. Protecting astronauts from these extreme temperatures was a prime concern for NASA spacecraft designers. NASA researchers sought after a temperature control technology for the Apollo spacecraft that would provide a barrier which was both lightweight and flexible and had sufficient durability to withstand the rigors of space. After considerable effort, a process technology was developed that permitted producing plastic films coated with a thin layer of aluminum. These thin metallized plastics were utilized in virtually all spacecraft from then on. With this technology, the temperature in manned spacecraft could be controlled to permit a comfortable working environment.
The radiant barrier was a useful temperature controller in space, so the earth applications possible, such as in insulating homes and office buildings, soon followed. U.S. firms acquiring the technology, such as Radiant Technologies, Inc. of Virginia and Quantum International Corporation (now Tech 2000) of Washington, manufacture and market insulation using a combination of high-grade aluminum overlaid around a core of fire-resistant propylene or Mylar. These radiant barriers are being used in home and commercial buildings, and in automobiles, trucks and food transports. The now multi-million-dollar metallized plastic market continues to grow. The thin space blanket and other clothing-related products offer excellent warmth at minimal weight and bulk.
The technology has been used as wrappers for candy and other food products. Large packaging protection products such as aluminized shipping bags, pallet covers, food cart covers, and medical bags have also been developed.