Thank you, NASA: The Unusual History of Memory Foam

Thank you, NASA: The Unusual History of Memory Foam

origin of memory foam

Thank you, NASA: The Unusual History of Memory FoamAre you one of the millions of people who sleep on a mattress made with memory foam? This remarkable invention’s origins can be traced to the space program. Here is the surprising story behind memory foam:

It took off because of a NASA mission. Memory foam was the brainchild of Charles Yost, a visionary aeronautical engineer in Asheville, N.C., who helped build a recovery system for the Apollo command module in 1962. Four years later, the NASA contractor was given a new mission: to develop airline seats that offer better impact protection in the event of an accident, as well as enhanced passenger comfort on long flights.

Yost, who died in 2005 at the age of 71, created a new type of flexible polyurethane foam material that conformed to whatever shape was pressing against it, returning to its original shape when the pressure was removed, providing an even distribution of body weight. Early on, Yost called this tempur foam, while others referred to it as “slow spring back foam.” Technically, it is viscoelastic foam, but widely referred to as memory foam.

I can’t write about memory foam without giving a shout-out to one of our CertiPUR-US® participating foam producers — NCFI Polyurethanes, the company that Yost partnered with in developing this innovative foam.

The sky wasn’t the limit. With its unusual properties, high energy absorption, lasting softness and pliability, this space-age invention was destined for many diverse applications. It has been used in bulletproof vests, hospital beds, custom-molded wheelchair seats, movie theater seats, helicopter seats, carpet underlays, shoes, motorcycle seats, riding saddles, theme-park bumper rafts, archery targets, veterinarian and human prosthetics, custom dress forms and even football helmets.

Memory foam comes home. It seemed inevitable that this unique technology soon would find natural uses in mattresses, pillows and upholstered furniture. Traditional memory foam provides support by conforming to body shape and weight, minimizing pressure points and promoting circulation. Adaptations such as gel memory foam have special properties that create a cool sleeping surface and helps regulate body temperature. 

Testing, one two three. While many mattresses use either memory foam or conventional foam exclusively, others are hybrids that use a combination of both types. Anyone in the market for a mattress should check the CertiPUR-US® online directory of companies and brands selling products containing certified foam. This is your assurance that the foam inside meets our rigorous standards for content, emissions and durability.

Scroll to Top