The technology of memory foam, from outer space to your bedroom

Ever wondered how the elusive memory foam came to be? In 1966, Charles Yost invented the memory foam under NASA’s contract in hopes to create a comfortable plush lining for astronauts on board spaceships. Because of the long hours of sitting and monitoring the ship’s condition throughout the journey, they wanted to ensure a foam seat that could contour into their bodies and provide support on the many hours of being in a state of continued resting. Years after strict NASA use, it was released into the public in the 1980s. When released into the public domain many quickly saw the many benefits memory foam had to offer and used the material for many different things like helmets, shoes, pillows and mostly widely known usage: mattresses.

In the 1960s many astronauts who were sent out often complained how their seats on their ship were causing severe back pain in addition to a safety hazard that concerned many on board, in response NASA contracted Charles Yost. Yost was a engineer who also worked on other NASA projects, one of them was namely the Apollo Command module during the apollo space landing, due to his remarkable efforts and impressive track record at NASA he was immediately pulled into the board for this project.

However Yost during this time was an engineer for a private company called “Systems Dynamics Group”  and had to be contracted in with NASA under this secret project. So Yost and one of their NASA’s scientists,  Chiharu Kobukawa was in charge in creating this special foam lining. Initially called the “slowly spring back foam” due to its slow spring back and ability to absorb shock and evenly distribute weight and pressure. This foam ensured that astronauts would be in complete comfort throughout the ride and this guarantee that the team delivered was proven success.

Before NASA released this foam to the public masses, Yost took this new invention to seek out new and exciting uses for the memory foam. Initially lining it in football helmets and sold to other companies, then later modified with a new formula and name the “Dyanofoam”. Years after that initial transaction, NASA released the formula to the public domain. From that point many other companies were able to adapt this new technology into the market. Making its unique properties into shoes, pillows furniture and many more. This made the memory foam into the most used and widely known space technology.

Ever taken a bubble bath and tried to shape the bubbles into objects? Or perhaps you’ve put too much detergent in your washing machine causing mountains and puddle of bubbles on your floor? That in-between form of solid and liquid is what creates the foam we know today. By trapping the bubbles of gas inside of the liquid, Yost was able to create a viscous type of material. So when we apply pressure onto the foam it’s able to hold it’s shape and spring back slowly, absorbing the air around it to bounce back. The network of tiny bubbles or pores that change under this pressure rather than your traditional mattress which is often times just springs and cotton-like stuffing that will overtime press all of the air out leaving you with little to no support. While as the Memory Foam that already has this built in space structure that will ensure comfort no matter how long you rest, sleep and use it.

There are varying densities that memory foam possesses , depending on the usage. The more dense your memory foam which is mostly reserved for mattress toppers and the original space seat lining, has a more pressure sensitive structure, more bubbles making it heavier 2kgs. By contrast the lighter memory foam is more reserved for pillows, blankets and lighter usage as it is less durable, but also not as temperature sensitive and does not absorb heat as much as its heavier counterpart.

As aforementioned, this product was released in the 1980s and since then have boomed and flooded the market with its versatile uses. Even in prosthetic limbs memory foam is used, it’s porous feature enables the users to be comfortable throughout the day with little to no pain. In addition to users who would be wearing it in areas of heat would be able to hold on to their prosthetics without feeling uncomfortable, this is  due to sweat being absorbed into the foam. But in most popular known usage is the memory foam mattress. Many people with fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses has sought out memory foam as their choice of mattress due to its ability to not only take in the shock absorption but to also even out pressure throughout their body. Meaning that no matter how much these people who are affected by this particular illness toss and turn during the night-time it will still be able to hold their bodies and minimize the physical stress that they might be experiencing. Because of its popularity in mattress material, memory foam have different types, ranging from different densities that fits the need. Regardless of individual usage at home, it is truly amazing to see the journey of memory foam. From its conception as a solution for astronauts onboard ships, its technology being spread to the masses providing solution for those who need a good night sleep and even serving as a cushion for prosthetic limbs. What other amazing does space technology have to offer us?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *