You may know Teflon best for coating our frying pans and baking tins so that our food does not stick to their surfaces, but what you may not know is that Teflon was also used in the space race and is still used in outer space today. It was a common myth that Teflon was invented by NASA, a myth that NASA has done little to shake off. In fact, it was discovered nearly 20 years before NASA was even formed by Roy J. Plunkett whilst working for the Du Pont company.
The Apollo Program
The Apollo Program is one of the most famous space exploration programs NASA has ever produced. It was designed to land humans on the moon and bring them back to earth.
Teflon was integral to the astronauts who flew in the Apollo spaceships and was used in their space suits to protect them. Their suits protected them from harmful solar radiation, insulated the person wearing the suit and prevented heat loss, they also protect the suit from micrometeoroids and other orbital debris, which could easily puncture and depressurize it.
The suit was made from 21 layers, and each layer was essential to protect the astronauts from the four dangers of outer space “extra-vehicular activities”. The Teflon layer was the outermost layer of the suit and it focused on protecting the suit from the micrometeoroids and abrasive lunar dust. It was coated with a fiberglass yarn material and it made the suit inflammable and provided abrasion protection. There were also Teflon patches attached to the knees and around 50% of the suit to stop any friction that might occur.
So the lunar boots and suits of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the eventual first and second men on the moon, were both made with Teflon.
Teflon’s other uses in space
Teflon is mainly used for its protective attributes in the heat shields insulation and cargo liners, but great advances in the NASA space program are due to Teflon’s use on materials storing extremely corrosive material.
NASA have also been testing a “Super Teflon” in space that is supposedly 10,000 times more durable than the regular fluoropolymer.