Spinoffs from space

Some everyday products came from outer space - that is, they use technologies or materials that were originally developed for the United States space program.

NASA officials, when justifying the costly space program, point to these "space spinoffs" as part of the program's many benefits.

But many critics still argue that Americans don't get enough return from their investment in space. This month, the debate intensified when President Bush requested a nearly $500 million increase to NASA's $15 billion budget.

Below are several space spinoffs - and an imposter. Which of the following products did NOT originate with the space program?

1. Satellite TV - NASA developed ways to correct errors in signals coming from spacecraft. Now the technology is used to reduce noise (poor picture or sound) in satellite TV signals.

2. Bar coding - First developed to help NASA keep track of millions of spacecraft parts, it is now used by stores and manufacturers to keep track of sales and stock.

3. Joystick controllers - Now used for computer games and in vehicles for people with disabilities, they evolved from research to develop a controller for the Apollo Lunar Rover and from other NASA research into how humans actually operate.

4. Smoke detector - First used in the Earth-orbiting space station Skylab, launched in 1973, to help detect toxic vapors. Now it is used in homes and buildings to warn of fire.

5. Microwave oven - Also used on Skylab, it enabled astronauts to safely warm up their crumb-free meals. Now they're common in most households.

6. Invisible braces - The translucent ceramic was adapted from NASA's advanced ceramic research to develop tough new materials for spacecraft and aircraft.

7. Cordless tools - Portable, self-contained power tools were developed to help Apollo astronauts drill for moon samples. Today, cordless power drills, vacuum cleaners, and shrub trimmers are common.

8. Portable computer - A forerunner of the modern notebook computer was first used by NASA in a shuttle mission in 1983.


No. 5 is made up. The first microwave ovens appeared in 1954, the byproduct of radar research. Convection ovens are used on space shuttles, because microwaves might interfere with other electronics on board.

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