Science at Work: It Came From Outer Space!

AstronautDuring budget crunches, it’s common for the public to ask why funding space exploration should be a priority when we have so many problems on earth.  In this month’s “Science at Work” feature, we look at some of the more immediately, tangibly practical things that space exploration has brought all of us.  I’m pulling a few highlights from these three webpages:  dsc.discovery.com,  spinoff.nasa.gov, and science.howstuffworks.com – be sure to click on them for more cool stuff that came to your house from outer space (or at least, as a byproduct of getting people and machines to space and back again).

So, what cool stuff has NASA done for you lately?  Here’s five examples:

  • Invisible Braces:  Invisible braces are made from translucent polycrystalline aliminua (TCA), which was developed by Ceradyne in conjunction with NASA to protect the antenna of heat-seeking missile trackers.
  • Memory foam:  This is the stuff that makes your Tempurpedic mattress so comfy.  It shows up all over the place these days – sports helmets, packaging for delicate equipment, cars, commercial aircraft, and amusement park rides.
  • Lifeshears:  You know those big things that looks like giant, terrifying hedge clippers that firefighters use to pry your mangled car apart so they can remove you from the wreckage?  If heaven forbid you are ever trapped in a mangled car, you can thank NASA for helping you get out.  The technology is the same technology that NASA developed to separate the space shuttle from the booster during flight.
  • Insulin Pump:  NASA developed a way to monitor astronauts vital signs continuously during long voyages.  This technology makes the insulin pump, which dispenses insulin according to the body’s levels of blood sugar, possible.
  • Cordless tools:  This started as a Black and Decker Project, became a Black and Decker and NASA project, and has since been used not only to develop my family’s weed whacker (a device without which we’d have to burn our house down completely and move) but also medical tools.

Here’s something NASA did NOT invent, despite the not so subtly altered photo above:  Tang.  Tang was invented by General Foods but has been associated with the space program since the astronauts drank it in 1962.  Teflon and velcro are also associated with the space program but were not invented by NASA.

NASA’s budget is currently about 0.5 percent of the Federal budget.  That’s half a penny per tax dollar.  For this, you get technologies that affect our abilities to handle medical problems, environmental issues, safety, and more.  The movement penny4nasa points out that we could double NASA’s budget for only half a cent more per tax dollar.  Not a bad deal for all of space.

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