NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC

May 4, 1998


NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin will receive the one millionth pillow produced by Tempur-Pedic Inc. on Wednesday, May 6, at 5 pm EDT in the NASA Headquarters Auditorium, 300 E Street, SW, Washington, DC.

The pillow, made from a foam material developed by NASA researchers to cushion pilots against the rigors of test flight, will be presented by Tempur-Pedic's CEO, Robert Trussell. The Lexington, KY, company's pillows, mattresses and other products are used to treat disorders ranging from sleeplessness to pressure ulcers, commonly known as bedsores.

Temper Foam, a visco-elastic, body-temperature reactive material which returns to its original form even after compression, was first developed by NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, for use in Space Shuttle seating and to protect airline passengers in crashes. The material was recently inducted into the United States Space Foundation's Space Technology Hall of Fame, Colorado Springs, CO.

NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

May 4, 1998


A new concept for spacecraft tiles also can be used on Earth to make efficient, vacuum-like insulation for refrigerators, furnaces and automobile catalytic converters.

The new material is similar to that used for the tiles on the Space Shuttle to protect the vehicle from the heat generated during reentry into Earth's atmosphere. However, the new tiles have a layer of aerogel, or 'solid smoke,' mixed into the tile's air spaces.

"Solid smoke, or aerogel, works like a vacuum layer because it's a great insulator," said aerogel tile co-inventor Dr. Susan White of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. "The new aerogel tiles can insulate spacecraft from ten to 100 times better than today's tiles."

Aerogel is made of silica, alumina and carbon as well as other materials, and can weigh less than the same volume of air. "The aerogel used to fill the air spaces inside the tiles is like strings of nanosized pearls, all tangled up," White said. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

The fibers that form the tiles are mostly a mixture of silica and alumina oxides, according to co-inventor Dr. Daniel Rasky, also of Ames. The spaces inside the untreated spacecraft tiles are less than a millimeter wide.

"The reason the aerogel tile composite will act as a great insulator for keeping freezers cold, or automobile catalytic converters hot, is that the air flowing through the tile is almost completely blocked by aerogel," White said. "It is like having a chunk of solid vacuum where you need it."

"Aerogel is very brittle and can't be machined, but spacecraft insulation tiles filled with a layer of aerogel can be cut, machined, drilled and attached to a surface," White said. "Aerogel-tile insulation can be made into different shapes for many uses here on Earth."

The aerogel space-tile material could be used in commercial products that require mechanically tough super-insulation, such as catalytic converters for cars or specialty refrigeration units. In addition, the new material potentially could be used for furnaces; for liquefied gas transport trucks; or for liquid carbon dioxide, special nitrogen and oxygen containers.

The new aerogel tiles could also be used to insulate future spacecraft from the heat of reentry into the atmosphere. "Not only will the aerogel tiles protect future spacecraft from very high reentry temperatures, the materials also will better protect spacecraft from ice formed on the extremely cold fuel tanks when the vehicle is waiting on the pad for launch," White said.

High temperature and environmental testing of aerogel space tiles was conducted at Ames for seven years. A patent is pending for the new material.

NASA actively encourages commercialization of its technologies. To learn more about NASA innovations, commercialization efforts and the agency's technology transfer programs, interested parties can call 1-800/678-6882 or access the NASA Commercial Technology Network web page.

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