Everyone knows that NASA uses spacecraft, computers and enormous telescopes in their work. It’s also widely known that some of the devices the organization uses have spread to the general population. Cell phone cameras and computer mice, for existence, were both originally designed by and for NASA. Below is a list of different tools and technologies NASA uses on a regular basis that you maybe didn’t’ know about.

Digital Cameras

NASA has used digital cameras in one form or another for decades. A NASA engineer named Eugene Lally first conceived the digital camera back in the 1960s for he and his colleagues wanted a lightweight and reliable camera that would work in space. (Another NASA engineer, Frederic Billingsley, coined the word “pixel,” which is short for “picture element” in 1965.) The NASA engineers spent decades improving the cameras, trying to make them as small as possible without sacrificing the picture quality. NASA uses digital cameras in telescopes like Hubble and rovers like Curiosity.

Infrared Cameras

NASA also uses infrared cameras, some of which are tiny and can run on a single watt. These cameras can be used to check for an out-of-control fire during a lift-off or monitor the environment. They can also be used for medical imaging. One type, called a QWIP (Quantum-well infrared photodetectors) from Infared Cameras Inc. is a handheld device with a multitude of applications including weather monitoring, navigation, flight control systems and measuring atmospheric pollutants.


Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIR or fNIRS) is a tool for monitoring brain activity. The subject wears special headgear that uses infrared light to measure the concentration of oxygen in the blood and the blood flow in the cortex. The headgear can thus determine how tired, anxious or distracted a pilot is – which tells his superiors whether or not he needs a break from flying.

Earth Observing System

The Earth Observing System is the key part of NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, a research program to study Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, and environment. The Earth Observing System consists of satellites and scientific devices orbiting the Earth observing its conditions. As some of the satellites were launched in 1997, the EOS can also track the changes in Earth’s environment over the past couple of decades.


NASA also uses unmanned helium balloons in its projects. The Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility has been part of NASA since 1982. The balloons can travel as high as 120,000 and they carry scientific equipment that can collect data and measurements. They have been used in a variety of scientific research including cosmic ray studies, infrared astronomy, atmospheric studies, and gamma ray astronomy.

NASA has been in operation in 1960s, and it has developed and used lots of technology during that half-century. While it is best known for its space exploration missions, NASA has also conducted research in the development of aircraft, atmospheric conditions including Earth’s ozone layer, Earth science, and space medicine. It consequently needs tools for all of these endeavors, and its engineers have often supplied them.