Let me put that question to you: how much of space research and exploration is relevant to our daily, mundane livelihood? Most of us will appreciate that there is some relevance to pursuing space R&D (research and development) but the outcome or impacts of the R&D might not be immediate or even worthwhile; i.e. we’re better off focusing our resources on more ‘down-to-earth’ problems like water management in drought-afflicted areas, providing better health care to communities or even tackling issues related to war-torn societies. While space R&D cannot provide all the answers to our problems, it certainly has changed the way we live to such an extent that, 50 years ago, most of what have come out of this R&D would have been deemed pure fiction or folly. The impact of space R&D on society cannot be quantified. The value of space R&D and space exploration goes beyond the financial investments we pour into this sector. Yet we have a clear and exact understanding of how this R&D has transformed the world for a better place altogether. We have certainly benefited from this quest to explore beyond our world.
The challenges presented by space exploration over the years have been the catalyst in technological and engineering development; development which, otherwise, would have happened much later or perhaps even not have happened at all. We have a lot to be grateful about space R&D. Here’s a sample of how we’ve benefited from the likes of NASA and ESA and other organisations involved in space exploration. This is by no means in order of importance but we can all recognise their individual value and, thus, what we could have missed out on had we not pursued our dreams to explore the Universe.
1. Satellites. Goes without saying that we depend on these little guys up there to relay our calls and tv programs along with making sure airplanes are communicating safely with the ground and not bumping into each other in mid-flight, etc.
2. SAT-NAV. An off-shoot of satellites. Helping us find our way in the concrete jungle amongst other things.
3. Prosthetics: Although not revolutionary, the advancements in space robotics are being adapted to create more lifelike, functioning limbs.
4. Dialysis. Recycling blood. How important has that been! You tell me…
5. MRI and CAT scans. Again, for the benefit of each and everyone’s health care.
6. Breast cancer screening. No explanation require.
7. Landmine removal. How? Well any excess rocket fuel is used for a flare that can burn a hole in the case of a mine and burn away its explosive content thus safely disarming those nasty devices.
8. Structural analysis: Thousands of computer programs have been designed by NASA engineers to find imperfections in aerospace structures and components which has proved invaluable in air safety.
9. Water filter. Again, we can’t underestimate the importance of this.
10. Cordless Power Tools. Although not completely world-changing technology, it would be hard to imagine such tools without the development carried out in designed such gadgets. The household and DIY products firm Black & Decker came up with a portable drill capable of extracting core samples from below the lunar surface during the Apollo missions. The same technology has been used on cordless miniature vacuum cleaners.