NASA did not invent Tang, but it did invent smartphone cameras

It was 46 years ago today when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.

There are few ties between Sanford and the space industry. Regardless, July 20, 1969, was a proud moment for everyone living in Central Florida. When you can watch rockets blast off from your front porch, you feel a connection to NASA’s triumphs, even if the Cape is 60 miles away.

There are plenty of myths about the space program and the moon landing. Ignoring the conspiracy theorists who claim the moon landing never happened (including, in recent days, one Russian official, read more here), the three biggest myths are that NASA invented Tang, Teflon and Velcro.

It did not.

All three items were used by NASA. Tang and Velcro both saw their commercial success skyrocket because of the space connection. But each was invented independent of the space agency.


Bill Mitchell, a chemist with the General Foods Corp., invented Tang in 1957 — one year before NASA was created. It hit store shelves in powdered form in 1959. Sales languished for 6 years until the powdery orange drink packed with nutrients was launched into space in 1965 as part of the Gemini astronauts’ balanced meals.

John Glenn first took Tang to space in 1962 as part of an orbital eating experiment, but General Foods didn’t take advantage of the space connection until the Gemini program, at which point the company heavily advertised Tang as the drink of astronauts.

As for Mitchell, he was a rock star in the process food category. While at General Foods, he was responsible for inventing Cool Whip, quick-set Jell-o, powdered egg whites, and Pop Rocks, which has an urban legend all to itself (read more here).


Velcro was invented some 25 years before it was used in the Apollo missions. Swiss engineer George de Mestral created Velcro – known as a hook-loop fastener – in 1941 after returning from a hunting trip. He noticed that burdock seeds clung to his clothes and his dog’s fur. Using a microscope, he noticed that hundreds of tiny hooks on the burdock seed and attached to loops on clothing and fur.

velcroIt took de Mestral 10 years to create the mechanical process to create the hooks and loops using synthetic materials, and he eventually received a patent in 1955. His hook-loop fasteners met with warm reviews, but he couldn’t convince designers to incorporate them into their clothing lines.

It wasn’t until NASA began using Velcro in its bulky space suits in the mid 1960s that the fasteners began to appear in consumer products – first in snow skiing clothing, and then in SCUBA and marine gear. (read more here)


As for Teflon, it had already earned acclaim in another legendary government program — the Manhattan Project.

tefalAt the gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., traditional gaskets and seals could not withstand the highly corrosive uranium hexafluoride gas used in the enrichment process. Teflon — which was created accidently in 1938 by Roy J. Plunkett working for a Du Pont laboratory — turned out to be the silver bullet.

By 1958 a French engineer, Marc Grégoire, and his wife had sold 1 million pans coated with Teflon through their company, Tefal. By the time NASA got around to using Teflon in spacesuits, Teflon was already a household word (read more here).

And while NASA did not invent Tang, Velcro and Teflon, the agency is responsible for the technology that makes smartphone cameras possible (read more here).

– by Dan Ping


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