The history of the radiant barrier begins as far back as the early 1920′s when radiant barrier was used to insulate residential and commercial buildings in the United States. In 1945 the product was produced commercially by a New York company, but the government ruled the company a monopoly and shut down production. Radiant barrier was lost to the world until the mid 1950′s when Clark E. Beck, P .E. refined and led the Team Wright Labs pioneered the development of the product for NASA. In the mid 1950s, when Clark E. Beck, PE, of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base discovered and pioneered the development of radiant barrier technology for NASA and the space program, he couldn’t have envisioned the variety of applications for which this insulation material would someday be used. But today, radiant barrier technology has been spun-off into products as diverse as energy-conserving building insulation, agricultural insulation, automobile insulation, protective clothing (like used by firemen), and many other products.
NASA was trying to find a way to protect the astronauts during space walks from the extreme temperature shifts ranging from -273 degrees Celsius to +238 degrees Celsius. They discovered that they would have to have a seven-foot thick protective layer on the space suit if they attempted to use conventional insulation. Obviously, this was way out of the question. Instead of trying to insulate the suits, they turned to reflective technology and used a radiant barrier to solve the problem. NASA reflected the heat of their own body back at the astronauts to keep them warm, while at the same time they used the radiant barrier to reflect the deadly direct radiation from the sun (radiant heat) out of the space suit to keep them cool. The material provided a reflective surface that kept more than 95 percent of the radiant energy from reaching the interior of the space suit. Small holes allow moisture to escape, while keeping longer heat waves from getting through. Weighing only slightly more than 17 pounds per thousand square feet. The material maintained constant, comfortable temperatures inside the space suit.
Radiant barrier has been in use by NASA since the Gemini and Apollo missions. The radiant barrier insulation was the prime element of the environment control system that allowed Apollo astronauts to work inside the Command Module in shirt sleeves, rather than in bulky space suits. Since the Gemini and Apollo missions, the radiant barrier has been used on virtually all spacecraft, including unmanned missions where instruments required thermal protection.
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