Many gadgets and hundreds of spin-off technologies originally developed for the space programmes in America, Russia and Europe are finding ways into our lives.
For example, did you know that the materials or technologies currently used for making artificial hearts, insulin pumps, car airbags, Olympic-calibre swimsuits and ceramic teeth braces were all originally meant for use in space? Engineers and scientists developed them to create products that could perform new task or withstand extreme temperatures, cosmic rays and the stress of high or zero gravity.
One of the most notable devices that was developed based on these heaven-sent technologies is an artificial heart pump that is ten times smaller than the earlier models, design of which was inspired directly from the fuel consumption monitoring system used in space shuttles.
Another healthcare product, which was developed based on the satellite component used in the Viking Mars mission, is an automatic pump that could continuously deliver insulin in micro-doses. This eliminated the patient’s need for painful daily shots of insulin.
Surgical staples and artery-reinforcing stents used in angioplasty are derived from the space-age alloy known as memory metal. Another space-age alloy called liquid metal is used for making sharper-than-steel scalpels, medical implants as well as performance enhancing golf clubs that are stronger than titanium and as elastic as plastic.
Quite often, there seemed to be remote connection between the product and the technology that spawned it.
One such product is the LZR swimwear launched by Speedo in early 2008 that quickly became de rigueur for competitive swimmers. Material used for making this swimwear was developed in collaboration with the researchers at NASA who specialized in friction and drag. Interestingly, at the Beijing Olympics, held later on the same year, 9 out of 10 gold medal winning swimmers wore the Speedo swimsuit.
Another company, using materials from missile-tracking device, developed the translucent, shatter-resistant braces worn by hundreds and thousands of smiling children.
More and more of these space-age technologies and materials are finding ways into the everyday lives of people. List includes devices for quick monitoring of human body temperature (based on technology that was once used in gauging temperature of distant stars) and protective head gears made from shock absorbent foams (developed to protect astronauts from the brain-jarring effects of the g-force).
According to NASA, radial tyres for cars will soon be made using a lightweight and fibrous material that is five-times stronger than steel; this material was originally developed for making the Viking space vehicle parachute.
Hemanta K. Sarkar