October 4, 2012 marks the fifty-five years of Sputnik 1’s successful launching into space. On that day in 1957 Russia launched Sputnik 1 into earth’s orbit and shocked the whole world. And thus began the space age.
Since then, several countries, including India, have successfully launched satellites and spacecrafts into space.
Because of high costs involved in space exploration, often citizens of these countries have severely criticized their governments for investing so much money into the space programs instead of utilizing that money more prudently for the benefit of their own citizens.
So, 55 years after the successful launch of Sputnik 1 into the space, let us find out how space exploration has impacted our lives on earth.
Since 1967, the US space agency NASA has been publishing a magazine called “Spinoff” (spinoff.nasa.gov) that describes technologies that have found their ways into the everyday lives of common people.
Currently, there are more than 1,700 of these ‘Down2Earth’ technologies – they vary from everyday used items (ingestible toothpaste, insulated paint, audio equipment, wireless headset, safer mobile phone, freeze dried technology, solar cells for harnessing solar energy etc.) to health (bio-imaging, carbon monoxide detection, environmentally safe sewage treatment, bacteriostatic water softener etc.) to safety (airbag, weather monitoring, sensitive detector for airport security check etc.).
Twelve items listed below (not in any particular order) are now common house hold names – we might be using them right in our homes or might have heard of them. But did you know that they all utilize space technology?
- Water filters for converting contaminated water into pure water.
- Cordless joystick used in computer gaming was originally developed for picking up rocks and soil samples on the moon.
- Adjustable smoke detector – the first one was designed in the 1970s for use in Skylab for detecting fire or noxious gases.
- Long distance telecommunication – it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, before sending men into space NASA built satellites that could communicate with people on the ground.
- Insoles of sport shoes (such as Nike, Adidas etc.) are designed by adopting a technology that was used for making the boots for walking on the moon.
- Ear thermometer, which is used in clinics and hospitals for measuring fever, contains a lens that detects infrared energy which we feel as heat – it utilizes a technology that was first used for monitoring the birth of stars.
- Scratch-resistant lenses for eye-glasses are made using a technology that was first used for coating the astronaut helmet visor.
- Light-emitting diode (LED), one of those bright ideas that lit up the world, was first used for plant growth in space.
- CAT scanner, which has become a valuable cancer detecting tool for hospitals around the world, was first used to find imperfections in space components.
- Computer microchips descended from the integrated circuits that were used in Apollo Guidance computer.
- Satellite television currently utilizes a technology that was first used to fix errors in spacecraft signals for reducing scrambled pictures and sound.
- Solar cells that are used in making household items, such as solar lights and solar heater.
Thus, the technologies developed for the space missions have indeed contributed to many practical applications that are now benefiting the lives of mankind on earth.
(Sources: NASA web site and Spinoff)
– Dr. Hemanta K. Sarkar