When the subject of space exploration comes up many people roll their eyes. Others complain outright about the waste of money. All too often people ask: what’s it for? What are we going to do out there anyway?
The answer to that would be a whole science and science fiction library in itself, so I decided to point out what space exploration efforts are doing for all of us right now, right here on Earth.
Most of us recognize that our whole system of modern communications depends on satellites in Earth orbit, from global phone and cell phone networks, to satellite TV, radio communications, GPS and more. If you think a while you might also remember that observer satellites help predict weather, crop yields, and pest infestations, not to mention giving warning of natural disasters like tornados and hurricanes (and yes, climate change). They can also locate mineral and fossil fuels deposits.
If you’re of a certain age you might remember that the NASA space program gave us Tang, Space Food Sticks, and dehydrated ice cream. But there’ve also been a few spin off benefits you might not know about:
- digital imaging technology created for the Moon landings is used in CT and MRI scanners.
- data storage software created to handle the reams of data from NASA satellites is now used by hospitals and businesses.
- material invented for the parachute shrouds of the Mars Viking landers is the heart of modern radial tires.
- the Jaws Of Life that save people trapped in car wrecks came from the system created to separate the space shuttle from its booster rockets.
- special metal alloys and micro-miniature components produced in space are helping to revolutionize medicine.
Even American speed skater Chris Witty, an Olympic record holder, owes her performance, in part, to skate blades sharpened by a tool created for the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope.
And believe me, those are only a few examples.
It isn’t simply that the mysterious black void of space, sprinkled with pretty sparkling lights has called to us since our cave-dwelling days. It’s the human capacity to look outward: to look beyond our small lives and communities to something larger, which has produced so many benefits we can also enjoy in our regular day-to-day lives.
I hope that never changes.