Aerogel, an extremely lightweight substance known for its insulation properties, was invented 80 years ago, but its commercial applications were limited because it was expensive to manufacture and extremely fragile. Nevertheless, NASA was interested in the material for space shuttle launch applications. The agency partnered with manufacturer Aspen Aerogels to develop a process that cut production time and cost and yielded a flexible, easy-to-handle aerogel. NASA uses it on the space shuttle and the fuel cell systems on the launch pad. It also used a block of aerogel to gather comet particles and inter-stellar dust from space. On earth, aerogel is in widespread use as an industrial insulator. It's also found in outwear, such as this Salomon boot and Burton parka.
Images courtesy of Gear Junkie; Flickr