Science

koichi wakata, space underwear
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
Astronaut
Koichi Wakata at the post-
landing news conference at Cape
Canaveral, Fla., Friday, July 31, 2009.

Experimental Underwear Could Be Next Space-Age Product to Catch On With the Masses

August 02, 2009 08:00 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata’s month-long underwear test at the International Space Station could help add the hi-tech fabric to the long list of consumer products originally developed for use in space.

Hi-tech Underwear Gets First Long Trial in Space

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Created by a Japanese company, J-Wear is a new type of clothing designed to be anti-bacterial, odor free, flame retardant, static free and water resistant, according to Marcia Dunn of The Associated Press. Wakata wore the same pair of J-wear underwear during the last month of his more than four-month stay aboard the International Space Station, and told Dunn that “my station crew members never complained … so I think the experiment went fine.”

Wakata returned to Earth early on July 31 with the crew from the space shuttle endeavor. Scientists in Japan will test his underwear to see how the material fared for its month-long trial. The J-Wear company also manufacturers shirts, socks and pants in the same material. If the clothing holds up, it could be useful for longer manned flights or journeys to other planets.

Space Inventions Turned Consumer Products

Because of the harsh environment experienced in space by astronauts and their equipment, much research and development goes into planning a space mission and properly equipping the astronauts. Often a new or improved consumer product emerges from all of that research and development. Here is a collection of some of the products that were originally developed for space.

NASA provides a brief list of some space inventions, that includes the satellite dish, medical imaging, vision screening, the ear thermometer, flame-retardant firefighter suits, smoke detectors, cordless tools, thermal gloves, space pens, joystick controllers, edible toothpaste and invisible braces.

MSNBC adds to that list the improvement of freeze-drying technology for freeze-drying food for space; many athletic fabrics that are lightweight but strong, such as newer swimsuit material; and the additives in baby and other foods that help provide more nutrition. Also, GPS (Global Positioning System) technology was developed by NASA, and is now widely used by the military and consumer drivers.

Jim Smith of mental_floss adds a few more to the list of NASA-developed inventions, including protective paint, technology to recycle old tires into new pavement, and scratch-resistant coating that is now used on plastic glasses.

However, MSNBC points out that there are a few products credited to NASA that weren't developed by the agency, most notably Tang, Teflon and Velcro.
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