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What has “Space Technology” done for me lately?

Published by Rob on Tue Oct 30, 2007 8:43 pm
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When people are asked about Space technology they generally think of what is up in space. They may think about Space-Stations, rockets and perhaps some new spacesuit.

A vast amount of the general public see investment into space technology as a waste of time, comments such as “It should be spent here on Earth first” are often touted. I decided to have a more detailed look at how space technology is benefiting us down here on Earth. I have highlighted just a few of the hundreds of ways space technology benefits everyone on Earth

You probably used a mouse to click your way to this Web page. But you probably don’t know the NASA connection…..

In the early 1960s, Doug Englebart — who started his career working on wind tunnels at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory (now NASA’s Ames Research Center) — was at the Stanford Research Institute, looking into different options for manipulating data on computer screens. When a grant from NASA helped him launch a study of various devices. His primitive mouse won out, and the little device many of us couldn’t live without today had been born. No, NASA didn’t invent the mouse, but it wouldn’t be the first or last time Space related research led to a culture-changing innovation. Other space related breakthroughs have helped us with our health, our Environment and many other important aspects of everyday life. Here are a couple of ways space technology impacts on everyday life:

We have all heard of the Hubble space Telescope, well did you know that Breast Cancer Screening has been dramatically improved thanks to a silicon chip originally developed for the Telescope? The improvement has lead to the process being less painful, less scarring, and less expensive than the traditional biopsy. Further experiments include missions aboard the Shuttles.

The “Microbe” experiment, part of the STS-115 space shuttle mission, studied three common microorganisms – Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans – that have been identified as potential threats to crew health. Sending these microbes into space allows scientists to investigate the microbes’ genetic adaptation and ability to cause infectious disease in microgravity, and to better understand the astronauts’ space environment. The results of this experiment help NASA scientists evaluate the risks to astronauts on exploration missions planned to go to the moon and Mars.

Spaceflight holds tremendous potential for the development of novel therapeutics, vaccines and diagnostics to treat, prevent and control infectious diseases,” says Cheryl A. Nickerson, the experiment’s principal investigator and a researcher at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. “Our experiment will be the first to investigate the effects of spaceflight on the disease-causing potential and gene expression profiles of disease-causing microbes2“. She added.

Zero-G Cancer Cell Experiments
Astronauts sent on long-distance space missions, especially those beyond the Moon, will be exposed to increasing levels of radiation. This has lead NASA to spend millions of dollars in research into radiation and cancer. Zero-G experiments take place upon the Space Shuttle, International Space Station (ISS) and on Earth to try and research ways into combating dangerous radiation. NASA scientists are growing healthy and cancerous cells in devices called bioreactors that fool the cells into believing they are in zero gravity. Data from the experiments will help them learn what causes the growth of both healthy and malignant breast tissues.

Other than diseases there are other threats to us on Earth. Being able to spot and research these threats from space is something satellites have been doing for years, Monitoring hurricanes and forest fires are just two examples.

Satellites and the Environment
Satellites have studied oceans, the atmosphere, clouds, weather, rain forests, deserts, cities, farmlands, ice sheets, and just about everything else on—and even in—Earth. So other than having an ok weather report what else do satellites do?

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bob Thirsk Describes some of the benefits he sees space technology bringing:
• Satellite telemetry allows us to track these species anywhere in the world.
• Weather satellites enable us to monitor environmental conditions that affect their movements.
• RADARSAT images give us a close-up view of their habitats from afar, no matter what the weather or time of day.
• Astronaut observations from space demonstrate how these habitats change over time due to factors like climate change and deforestation.

He then goes on to describe the benefits in more detail, adding “Why watch species from space? Couldn’t we just as easily monitor migrating animals up close? It depends on your viewpoint. From Earth, it’s often hard to tell where these wayfarers are going or where they’re coming from. From space, with the help of advanced technology, we can locate the breeding grounds, migratory pathways, and winter homes of a wide range of species, many of which are rare or endangered. We can gather data required to protect them or even save them from extinction and learn which regions and countries need to participate in their conservation.”

The Californian Forrest Fires recently have been catastrophic with little mercy for anything in their paths however viewing these sorts of weather conditions from space can help us prepare and fight such catastrophes. Satellites have helped map the disaster. Read and interesting story on how Google images are helping to fight fires at: http://www.cioinsight.com/article2/0,1540,2208938,00.asp

There are many other hundreds of ways in which space technology helps us every day here on Earth. It is important to remember that although many hundreds of millions are spent on space technology every year there are many hundreds of ways in which that technology filters through to help people all across the globe.

Copyright 2007 The International Space Fellowship. All rights reserved.
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