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Space Technology Hall of Fame

1989

For decades, ground and polished glass had been the preferred lens in the eyeglass industry. That changed in 1972 when the Food and Drug Administration issued a regulation that all sunglasses and prescription lenses must be shatter-resistant. The main disadvantage to glass is its brittleness, so eyeglass manufacturers turned to plastics. Plastic lenses had many advantages (lower manufacturing costs, excellent optics, far better absorption of ultraviolet radiation, lightweight), but although they were resistant to shattering, they were highly susceptible to scratching. 

NASA's Dr. Ted Wydeven of the Ames Research Center generated the technological seeds for the first scratch-resistant plastic lenses while working on a spacecraft water purification system. To alter a membrane in the purification process, Dr. Wydeven coated a filter with a thin plastic film using an electric discharge of an organic vapor. The research continued as NASA developed an abrasion-resistant coating for the astronaut space helmet visors and other plastic surfaces of aerospace equipment. Foster-Grant invested over 10 years of research trying to find a coating for lenses that could give glass-like scratch-resistance while keeping all the benefits of plastic. In 1983, Foster-Grant obtained a license from NASA for the scratch-resistant coating technology. 

The company combined its own technology with NASA's and produced a superior lens. Their scratch-resistant lenses lasted, with normal wear, ten times longer than the most widely used plastic optical lenses, surpassing even glass. Today, the majority of sunglasses, corrective, and safety lenses sold in the United States are made of plastic.
NASA scientists, in order to conduct a thorough study of the Moon's soil, needed samples from both the lunar surface and subsurface. Digging into the hard lunar surface layer demanded a lightweight, compact power drill capable of drilling 10 feet below the surface. To top those requirements, the drill also needed its own independent power source. The Black & Decker Corporation - working with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center - responded with a battery-operated, magnetometer system. Black & Decker used a unique computer program to optimize the design of the drill's motor and ensure minimal power consumption. In the years following the Apollo Program, Black & Decker refined this spin-off technology and created entire lines of handy cordless tools for widely different industries. The cordless tool brings flexibility and freedom of movement to the surgeon in the operating room, the professional building contractor, the handyman at home, the gardener, the worker in the plant, and the homemaker. Among the most popular and famous of these is the Dustbuster - a handheld vacuum cleaner for home or auto. These cordless products now account for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales in America alone.
In the late 1960s, NASA's Johnson Space Center went searching for a lightweight, non-combustible fabric durable and strong enough to protect the astronauts in an alien, zero-gravity environment. One American company, Chemical Fabrics, a specialty weaver and coater, was already experimenting with advanced composites. ChemFab wove the specially designed Owens Corning Fiberglass yarn into a fabric, and then coated it with custom Teflon formulations. The fabric was tailored for astronaut wear. Collaborating with Owens Corning and Dupont, ChemFab modified and strengthened the fabric with an eye toward construction use. Birdair, a pioneer in air-supported structures, worked with ChemFab and its suppliers on a variety of sheerfill enclosed buildings often reducing costs 30 to 40 percent below conventional construction.

Architects, engineers, and building owners are increasingly turning to fabric structures because of their aesthetic appeal, relatively low cost, low maintenance outlays, energy efficiency, and good space utilization. Typically, fabric structures are built in one of two ways. Either they are tension structures supported by a network of cables and pylons, or air-supported structures that consist of an outer membrane and an inner liner. The space between the two layers is inflated to maintain the pressure differential necessary for roof rigidity. This fabric is now often used as a permanent covering for shopping centers nationwide; for sports stadiums such as the Silverdome in Michigan, the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and the Olympic Stadium in Rome; and for airport terminals in Denver, and in Saudi Arabia. With the fabric's translucency value and reflective coatings, these structures reduce lighting needs and lower cooling costs.
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