Following a two month mission to space, NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have safely returned to earth. The occasion marked many firsts. The first ever manned mission to space by a private company – SpaceX. It was the first manned launch from American soil in nearly a decade (2011). And we saw the first splash landing since 1975.
To commemorate the occasion, Swanson’s has investigated how space exploration has impacted vacuum cleaner technology. There are many “products we use often, perhaps without realizing they came from space technology and innovation,” according to NASA’s Cheryl L. Mansfield.
The handy, lightweight and cordless DustBuster was a wildly popular handheld vacuum cleaner that literally swept the nation in 1979. But did you know its origins are rooted in Space Age technology?
As noted by Space.com, “Black & Decker developed most of the inner workings for the device as the result of a partnership with NASA for the Apollo moon landings between 1963 and 1972.” Astronauts traveling to the moon were required to take core samples of the moon’s surface. To do so, Black & Decker used computer technology to develop an “efficient, powerful, lightweight and compact” lunar drill.
That same technology was then deployed and used in homes everywhere through the invention of the DustBuster.
Using Space Age technology, Kirby made vacuum cleaners both quieter and more efficient.
Per NASA, “Under a Space Act Agreement between the Cleveland-based Kirby company and Lewis Research Center, NASA technology was applied to a commercial vacuum cleaner product line.” Kirby set out to study vacuum cleaner vibrations and particle flow behavior.
With access to Lewis Research Center’s holography equipment, Kirby used an apparatus designed to analyze the vibration of jet engines fan blades to study the fan blades within a vacuum cleaner. Using lasers, Kirby could carefully detect the most minuscule vibrations in the fan blades. According to NASA, jet engine blades rotate between 7,000 – 8,000 spins per minute. But vacuum cleaner blades rotate as high as 18,000 spins per minute. Wow!
Relying on vibration testing coupled with the use of an “electronic wind tunnel,” Kirby successfully redesigned its fan blade. According to NASA, “the new blade was constructed from a polymer that was configured for a substantial reduction in centrifugal force. The blade redesign was 300-400% stronger than the previous blade used with a 75% noise-level reduction in certain frequencies.”
So, the next time you grab your vacuum cleaner, take a moment to look to the stars. If not for space travel, we wouldn’t have the same vacuum cleaner technology today.