Perpetuating NASA's Urban Myths

The Teflon myth and other `inventions' from NASA, Newhouse News

"Mention Teflon, Velcro, Tang or personal computers, and the conversation often will turn to how NASA inventions during the Apollo years contributed to a better life on Earth. But the right stuff of invention wasn't always mothered by NASA. In many cases, credit goes to American industry. ... Today it's hard to beat the myths back, and there still is no real incentive for NASA to set the record straight, said Keith Cowing, who operates the Web site NASA Watch. "NASA has no need to correct people who are speaking good about it when there are so many that want to speak ill about it," he said."

Reader comments:

Wouldn't it be nice if Newhouse News got their facts correct when correcting myths? In their article: "Teflon is often associated with the Apollo program, but it was invented by a DuPont scientist in 1941. NASA used it in spacesuits as an outercoating because Teflon had low friction properties." You might inform your readers thatTeflon was not invented; it was discovered. And not in 1941 but in April, 1938 by Roy Plunkett of DuPont. It waspatented in 1941 and used in the Manhattan Project where its inert properties made it useful in the handling of corrosive uranium hexafluoride.

Most NASA Centers have or can provide a list of their major inventions and discoveries (some of which were developed by its predecessor agency, NACA). There are literally thousands of them which are used all over the world for non-aerospace purposes, such as:

- Grooves in road pavement to improve automobile and truck traction. Inititally developed by Lewis Rodert to improve airplane traction.

- NASTRAN. The famous NASA Structural Analysis software used throughout the world for a wide variety of things.

- SCOBA. Self-Contained On-Ground Breathing Apparatus used by firemen around the world.

I don't think NASA PAO folks perpetuate the myths you cited; and I'm sure you understand how difficult it is to debunk them in advance. So I suppose the question is, should NASA try to debunk them every time they appear; or just focus on getting new stuff properly communicated?

Contrary to what the article from the Chicago Tribune stated, I and my fellow Aerospace Education Specialists who take the NASA story to students and teachers in schools across the country have worked hard to present the real story. There are too many great stories of the technological spinoffs produced from the work of NASA employees to muddy the waters with these legends. In fact, one of my presentations for audiences at planetaria and science museums is called Urban Legends from Space. Although it is well received, many come up afterward saying "I did not know this!" Our work is far from over. The need for well informed, knowledgeable workforce of the future begins with our students today.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 5, 2007 11:59 AM.

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