The importance of space


Ballpoint pens, ear thermometers, shoe insoles, long-distance calling, the computer mouse. These are pretty normal items that a lot of people see or use every day. And every single one of them was developed by NASA for the space program. Let’s face it, folks. The space program matters.
I can think of a lot of colloquial phrases that everyone says constantly that speak towards the importance of the space program – “Shoot for the moon: even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” “It’s the journey, not the destination.” Maybe some people don’t think it’s important to go to space when we have enough problems on earth, but the scientific innovation we will reach along the way to space development will be worth it.
At the last press for space, NASA invented or led to the invention of tons of things that we use in everyday life today – who knows how, or if, these items would have been invented without the space program?
Ballpoint pens were invented to be able to write without gravity. Before these were created, a pen had to rely on gravity to pull the ink down – but not anymore. During the Space Race, the US wanted a pen that could write in space (while the Russians just used pencils.)
Ear thermometers are also based on NASA technology – Diatek, the company that first produced them, took advantage of NASA’s ability to measure the temperature of a star using infrared technology. They worked together with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and modified the star-radar to use infrared sensors to read energy emissions on the inside of a person’s ear drum (from Discovery magazine).
Athletic companies have taken the technology from spacesuit boots and added it to sneakers – any time you wear shoes with “boost” or “airwalk” or any type of specialized insole, you’re walking on NASA development. The first ones were partially developed by NASA in the 80s. If you’re like me and you ski with custom insoles, that technology was also created by NASA – in fact, ski boots in general are based on spacesuits (from NASA Science and Technology).
There are a lot of creations that happened because of the space program—long distance calling uses satellites, adjustable smoke detectors were created for the first space station, water filters were created for astronauts, and NASA even developed the computer mouse. The list could go on and on and on (from Discovery and NASA Science and Technology).
This brings me back to my original point: The space program matters. It’s not only about going to space, it’s about all we can achieve on the way to getting there. Most of the inventions I mentioned were created in the 1980s Space Race—think of all we could achieve now.
Bellevue College has a really good science program—my sisters are all scientists who started here, and I’ve written a few articles about it myself. The development of the space program promises a lot of exciting opportunities to science students.
The school just hosted some awesome planetarium exhibits of black holes discovered by the Hubble Telescope – how can anyone see something like that and not care about the space program?
Right now, NASA is facing serious cuts that are going to practically halt its work. President Obama has said that he wants to resume exploration and development, but nothing has changed. The program is not a waste of money—it’s a method of research and development that has already proven to be extremely successful.
Obama plans to encourage privatization of the space industry—I’ll be very interested to follow exactly how that turns out. Is this really going to work? I certainly hope so.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Surprising how much of our everyday life comes from NASA. The R&D we get from space exploration is arguably more important than the exploration itself. Even if space flight doesn’t save the planet, by aiming that high scientifically, we’ll develop much more. The space program does matter. And anyone who thinks it doesn’t needs to watch some Star Trek.