What is Memory Foam? From Spacecrafts to Mattresses

Memory Foam may not seem like the most interesting topic of conversation; however, you may be pleasantly surprised. Most of us are familiar with memory foam, but do we really know what it is? Many of us sleep on it nightly. Sometimes sit on it. It’s found in shoes, headphones, sports equipment and much more. We reap the benefits daily, so let’s learn more about it.

Who Created Memory Foam?

Memory foam wasn’t initially created for the sole purpose of comfort. In fact, it was designed to be used in space rockets! Yep, this story’s already heating up.

It was NASA’s Ames research centre who was contracted for the development of the foam and who created in 1966. Because both astronauts and pilots experience astounding levels of G-force during flight, NASA needed a material which could help these individuals withstand the pressure.

Memory foam needed to combat against serious levels of pressure. Imagine walking into the biggest job interview of your life. Now imagine you’ve forgotten every reason you’re the right person for the job. Also, five minutes earlier you dropped ketchup down yourself. Now multiply that level of pressure by ten and you’re still not close.

We jest of course, but it stands to reason that this new foam needed to be something pretty special.

The Many Names of Memory Foam

Memory foam didn’t originally have this name. Today we refer to it as such because of its inherent ability to mould to shapes when pressure is applied. It holds onto a particular shape for a brief period before returning to its original form. We liken this to effect to a memory within the foam, hence the name.

The scientific name for memory foam is viscoelastic polyurethane foam or low-resilience polyurethane foam (LRPu). Those names don’t really have the best ring to them though. It was originally referred to as slow spring back foam because of the way it slowly returns to an original foam and is also sometimes referred to as temper foam.

The name temper foam comes from the fact that this foam type is a temperature reactive material. When exposed to heat (such as the heat generated from a person’s body) the foam softens and moulds to unique shapes.

The Rise of Memory Foam Mattresses

Although memory foam was originally developed to be used in spacecrafts and aeroplanes, today it is most popularly used to make mattresses.

It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that NASA released memory foam into the public domain. At this time the foam was expensive and difficult to produce and so, not many companies were willing to risk working with it. The Tempur-Pedic Swedish Mattress manufactured by Fagerdala World Foams was one of the earliest memory foam mattresses created; it was manufactured in 1991. This was a popular mattress which led to the eventual creation of Tempur World.

As time went on, the foam became easier and cheaper to produce. Nowadays, memory foam mattresses are everywhere you look. You can even buy them online and have them delivered to your front door in a box much smaller than its actual size.

How is this wizardry possible you ask? Well, there exists magical machines which compress and roll the mattress, forcing the air out of it and shrinking it down. To prevent air from returning to the foam, the mattress is vacuum sealed. Once the memory foam mattress is where it needs to be, you can remove the packaging and allow the air to return to it. Voilà, just like magic, the mattress slowly returns to its original size.

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