In a few hours, an absurd number of people will watch the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. And they’ll probably watch a little football, too. I’ll be watching, but only out of an effort to be socially acceptable. I saw Richard Sherman go nutso on that reporter, so who knows what he’ll say and do tonight, and I’m all for celebrating the fact that the two teams playing are from two states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Beyond that…well, let’s just say I have a slight inclination for the Broncos, but only because my hometown college hockey team was the Western Michigan University Broncos. However, I just found another reason to get behind the Super Bowl—it indirectly owes its existence, or at least its widespread broadcast, to NASA.
Proponents of investing in NASA and space exploration often argue that technologies originally developed for some use in space have resulted in technological breakthroughs here on the ground. These are referred to as spinoff technologies. Neil deGrasse Tyson specifically cites to the Hubble telescope. The device had a bum lens for a few years, but when scientists tried out different technology to work around the lens problems, they realized that it could revolutionize mammogram imaging. Similarly, a number of aspects of tonight’s game arguably wouldn’t exist if not for space science.
First off, the communications satellites, an invention postulated by Arthur C. Clarke long before we actually sent any into the sky. NASA developed the Telstar 1 satellite, which broadcast the first live television signal ever in July, 1962. People across the world owe their sports broadcasts, among others, to the era of broadcasting that started with NASA and Telstar. I wonder if anyone has brought that up to Congress…
Speaking of communication, how about the headsets? Ever wondered why those were invented? Turns out, when NASA started sending folks into space, they needed a way to communicate with them, especially after on America’s second manned spaceflight back in 1961, the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft was lost after landing. As crews tried to recover the vessel, astronaut Gus Grissom nearly drowned as the capsule started sinking (it eventually fell to a depth of 15,000 feet and was only retrieved in 1999). He managed to Sandra Bullock is way out there, though, and got picked up after a few minutes. So headsets inside astronauts’ helmets seemed like a good idea—almost as important as the ones in the quarterbacks’ helmets. How else could we all hear all the grunting?
The headsets aren’t the only NASA-designed technology in the helmets, the foam is courtesy of NASA too. It’s that stuff you see advertised on the Tempurpedic mattress commercials, which is called Temper foam, or memory foam, and is made from polyurethane. It shapes around your body but then returns to its original form after you get out of bed, and I have to say, it’s every bit as comfortable as they say. This space foam comprises the padding inside of football helmets, and while it obviously can’t prevent every concussion, I have to wonder how much worse they’d be without it.
The outside of a football helmet is made of a product called Lexan, which NASA started looking into in the 1950s after it was developed by a scientist in Germany. Apparently, Lexan can stop a bullet, a small meteorite, or killer space trash. Unfortunately, neither Lexan nor memory foam can stop the barrage of inane commercials (I hear there’s one with Tim Tebow playing football on the moon) or the inevitable wardrobe malfunctions, but at least that gives NASA something to strive for.