I get pretty geeked about space flight. During my Master’s work, my advisor sent me down to his long-studied field site at the Kennedy Space Center to do reptile and amphibian surveys. It was a double dose of awesome. Not only did I get to poke around the Florida scrub chasing creepy crawlies, but I was at the frontier of space flight. I practically caught gopher tortoises in the shadow of the space shuttle Endeavour while it was sitting on the launchpad.
(not my photo, unfortunately. they didn’t let me get THAT close)
One thing that irks me is when people talk about how resources spent on space flight are wasted because we could be putting them to use here on Earth. An article in today’s Science Times reminded me of how misguided that belief is. This article, titled “Beings not made for space”, talks about the health concerns of astronauts that arise from long periods in microgravity. Anything form osteoporosis to misshapen eyeballs. NASA researchers take these problems very seriously, and work tirelessly to solve them. The solutions they devise can easily, and are often, transcribed into new technologies that help address non-space flight health problems.
One example is the liquid-cooled suits used by Apollo astronauts while they walked on the moon. These suits were adapted for use in helping victims of burning-limb syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinal injuries, and sports injuries” (1). Another example comes from a researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine, who used the design of the space shuttle’s main fuel engine pumps to develop an artificial heart pump that helps a stabilise a patient while they wait for a heart donor.
Finally, the next time you’re on a commercial flight that has equipment to provide the pilot with real time, meter-accurate knowledge of their position, or if you’re going under surgery that requires the use of a robotic arm, remember it was NASA who developed that.