Astronauts Blast Off with Polyurethane
When it came time to launch astronauts safely and comfortably into space, NASA scientists were looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to creating customized seating. After considering a variety of options, they turned to polyurethane.
While NASA’s primary mission has always been, “To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere and for other purposes,” the need to create safe travel into outer space is responsible for introducing technologies into our lives that we use every day.
In the 1960s, NASA faced a problem. The agency needed to make seats on board their space craft that could help astronauts withstand the G forces they endured on takeoff and landing. Very quickly, the engineers working on the assignment realized that to create adequate support, each astronaut would need a customized seat.
While it may have made sense to create seats for individual astronauts, the engineers found that throughout rigorous training, getting ready for space travel, the bodies of the astronauts would drastically change as they added muscle mass. Likewise, the musculature of an astronaut atrophied quite quickly in a zero-gravity environment. Throughout a single trip into space, an individual astronaut’s body could change dramatically between liftoff and reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
NASA engineers surmised that what they needed was a seat that could mold on demand to fit different astronauts — taking into account a range of body types and how a body might change during the build-up and throughout the duration of a mission.
Researchers quickly set to work to devise a solution, primarily made of polyurethane, that could mold to the astronaut’s shape and return to its “rest” state when not in use — thus “memory foam” was born.
Over the ensuing decades, memory foam has entered our daily lives with its uses and applications only growing over time. Today, memory foam appears in everything from the seats in our cars to the mattresses in our bedrooms.