The silver lining that is the Space Age
by Larry Klaes
|Is this the emotional equivalent of landing humans on Mars or discovering extraterrestrial life? Not really, but it is good solid research, the kind that has benefits way beyond some brief public attention.|
One field of research advanced by space is what the STS-107 crew largely focused on: medicine. Many past space developments, some not even related to the medical field, have made major contributions to this science. One prime example is angioplasty. The Dymer™ 200+ excimer angioplasty laser system was first used for studying atmospheric turbulence from satellites. It was later modified to help remove fatty buildup blocking arteries that could lead to heart attacks. The miniaturization that worked so well for computers also applies to medicine. Thanks to engineers who created small measuring instruments including tubes, valves, and pumps, these same devices have been used to perform such tasks as assisting weakened hearts in pushing blood through the body. This research is part of NASA’s Programmable Implantable Medication System (PIMS).
The technology made to enhance images of the lunar surface during the Apollo program now allows doctors to view inside the human body without needing invasive and potentially dangerous surgeries. A device made for Apollo astronauts to drive the Lunar Rover with one hand led to a similar technology called the Unistik Controller for helping quadriplegics get around with relative ease in their wheelchairs, certainly making their daily lives easier.
Not all benefits come from manned space missions. Our robot satellites and space probes have greatly contributed to our expanding knowledge since Sputnik 1 entered Earth orbit in October of 1957. Imagine how limited our weather forecasting would be without meteorology satellites. Thousands of lives have been saved from oncoming hurricanes over the decades because electronic eyes in space monitored the paths of those devastating storms. This vital information allows authorities to warn residents in the way of hurricanes to reach safety in time. Other types of Earth monitoring craft have kept track of plant growth to improve our understanding of the environment and watch foreign military actions to guard against sneak attacks.
Communications satellites have allowed us to talk to anyone anywhere across the globe at the speed of light. Watching television broadcasts and receiving cell phone calls and e-mails from even remote places are routine occurrences, thanks to these tireless machines high above us.
|Like a newly born infant, space science is our future.|
I hope these examples have helped to create a better understanding of why people like the astronauts of the space shuttle Columbia and the many thousands of others who work in the aerospace industries have dedicated their lives—in certain instances to the fullest extent—to space exploration and development. They weren’t doing it for some esoteric, abstract goal; they were playing truly important parts to improve all of our lives physically, intellectually, and culturally.
The next time you hear about a space mission being launched, know that it is yet another piece of our lives and our future being dedicated by your fellow human beings who see the true value of space exploration for us all. Some information gathered might seem abstract, but it may have significant uses we cannot even comprehend at present. As English physicist Michael Faraday once said when asked of the possible use for one of his inventions, “What use is a newborn baby?” Like a newly born infant, space science is our future.