I have sometimes heard it said that what is the “What is the point of space exploration? It is so expensive and the money could be better spent on domestic problems back here on Earth?” After all, cost was the main reason why the Apollo programme that took us to the Moon was cancelled in the 1970s. Yes, in a way I can understand that viewpoint but it ignores the numerous benefits that have accrued since the space programmes commenced back in the 1950s/60s.
Many consumer and industrial products that we today take for granted might never have been invented if it were not for space exploration. American President, John F. Kennedy, speaking in 1962, said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Well, it was hard, and many difficulties and problems had to be overcome with inventiveness at the expense of some lives. I expect also that the fact that the Soviets had achieved the first launching of a man into space, in the shape of Yuri Gagarin, might have provided the impetus to land Americans on the Moon before the end of the 1960s before the Soviets could!
Here are a few of the products and processes that were invented in this way:
- Air-filtration technology: used on Earth in fighting Covid and preserving the shelf-life of fresh fruit and vegetables in grocery stores.
- Artificial retinas: restoring meaningful vision to millions of people on Earth.
- Baby formula: NASA-funded researchers while working on a way to support Mars missions discovered a fungus able to synthesise two fatty acids found mostly in breast milk.
- Cancer treatments: made simpler for people on Earth.
- Components for producing artificial blood for animals.
- Cordless vacuum cleaner: creation of a vacuum drill for collecting lunar samples led to the cordless vacuum cleaner.
- Creating new drugs: such as for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
- Digital cameras: modern smartphones owe their existence to image sensors developed for miniature cameras used on interplanetary missions.
- Food standard improvement: better quality control.
- Freeze drying: providing long-lasting, nutritional food with much-reduced weight for space flights without the need for refrigeration.
- Heat safety: technology measuring body temperatures during exercise on the space station used on Earth and for fighter pilots.
- High-powered water guns: came about when creating a pressurised nozzle system for a new type of refrigeration.
- Joysticks: high-precision joysticks originally developed for flight simulators for astronauts.
- Medical scanning: providing the next generation scanners that were lighter, produced less radiation and better-quality imaging.
- Memory foam: was first developed for improved aircraft and spacecraft cushions.
- Robotic arm technology: applied to the automotive industry.
- Ultrasound procedures: designed for crew members on International Space Station.
Also, generally, it has helped the human race understand our planet Earth, and the solar system, galaxy and universe in which we are situated, inspiring us to make greater scientific strides in the future. We can expect more inventions as we start the Artemis programme and more flights to Mars. As far as I am concerned it is money well spent.