Apollo 11 landed on the moon July 20, 1969 CE, ushering in a new era in human history. Each year we celebrate the New Year with a look back and a look forward. At the start of YML 36, let's take the time to count our blessings.
The US Space Program was the most successful undertaking in human history. Not only did it accomplish it's goal, stated a few years after inception as "putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade," but the knowledge gained and resources developed have benefited all mankind.
Originally, the space program was started in a panic after the Russians launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. We had been leisurely talking about sending up satellites, as part of the defense program that included such related projects as the interstate highway system. The ability to launch satellites was, after all, really about the ability to launch and target nuclear missiles. When the Russians proved they could do it first, we hunkered down and started NASA and ARPA and the race was on.
One of the chief spin offs of the space program was the internet. Originally set up by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) as ARPAnet and recognized by Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1969, the technology improved and to the point where Al Gore recognized its importance and promoted its public use. (Republicans lied, as usual, but as Vint Cerf put it, "Gore provided much-needed political support for the speedy privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it to become a commercially-driven operation.")
From weather satellites to lipstick, the benefits of the space program have improved your life. Since 1976, NASA has published Spinoff that you can order free (hard copy or CD!). A lot of the following information is from the Spinoff web site. Indeed, after the first few from earlier than 1976, I'm just going to randomly search the database to come up with interesting spin offs.
- TV Satellite dish (many). This page contains lots of quick descriptions of objects you take for granted. Be sure and play some of the games!
- CAT Scans (1960s). "During the Apollo program, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed digital image processing, a new procedure that allowed scientists to snap -- and then visually enhance through computers -- Moon pictures taken from different observation points. These photos let NASA astronauts know what to expect come touchdown. Today, this same technology is applied by doctors and hospitals, only they're looking deep within human beings. Computer-aided tomography -- or CAT -- scans record images of organs in the human body. Image data is collected by aiming a fan-shaped X-ray beam at one specific organ from a number of different vantage points around the body, and then taking pictures. These different images are then fed to a computer, which reassembles them into a comprehensive, concentrated image of an organ, such as the brain. (Now that's piece of mind!)"
- Automotive Insulation (1997). "Under a Space Act Agreement between Boeing North America and BSR Products, Space Shuttle Thermal Protection System (TPS) materials are now used to insulate race cars. BSR has created special TPS blanket insulation kits for use on autos that take part in NASCAR events, and other race cars through its nationwide catalog distribution system. Temperatures inside a race car's cockpit can soar to a sweltering 140 to 160 degrees, with the extreme heat coming through the engine firewall, transmission tunnel, and floor. It is common for NASCAR drivers to endure blisters and burns due to the excessive heat. Tests on a car insulated with the TPS material showed a temperature drop of some 50 degrees in the driver's cockpit. BSR-TPS Products, Inc. now manufactures insulation kits for distribution to race car teams around the world."
- Heart Monitoring by Satellite (1978). General Electric's ambulance antenna is specially designed system that allows satellite relayed two-way communications between a moving emergency vehicle and a hospital emergency room. Key component of a demonstration aided at showing how emergency medical services can be provided to people in remote rural areas. Satellite communication permits immediate hospital guided treatment of heart attacks or other emergencies by ambulance personnel saving vital time when the scene of emergency is remote.
- Spherical Camera (1997). "Developed largely through a Small Business Innovation Research contract through Langley Research Center, Interactive Picture Corporation's IPIX technology provides spherical photography, a panoramic 360-degrees. NASA found the technology appropriate for use in guiding space robots, in the space shuttle and space station programs, as well as research in cryogenic wind tunnels and for remote docking of spacecraft. Images of any location are captured in their entirety in a 360-degree immersive digital representation. The viewer can navigate to any desired direction within the image. Several car manufacturers already use IPIX to give viewers a look at their latest line-up of automobiles. Another application is for non-invasive surgeries. By using OmniScope, surgeons can look more closely at various parts of an organ with medical viewing instruments now in use. Potential applications of IPIX technology include viewing of homes for sale, hotel accommodations, museum sites, news events, and sports stadiums."
- Showride (1976). "Result is a total sensory experience." All those rides where you get in and the ride doesn't move, but just shakes and tilts while you see where you're going on the screen ahead derive from the holographic display systems of the space program.
- Revealing More Than A Thousand Words (2003). "Photon Industries' hyperspectral sensor produces images with applications in food safety, skin health, forensics, and anti-terrorism activities. By separating the visible and near-infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, the sensor captures reflected energy from the object it is imaging and splits this energy into more than 1,000 spectral images. The contiguous images can then be analyzed individually or as a set to identify attributes about the object that could not be easily seen otherwise. These images can help authorities detect counterfeit money, fake passports, and other altered documents being used by terrorists and illegal aliens entering the country. The technology may also contribute to food safety. Initial results show that hyperspectral imaging can successfully identify molds grown on corn and agar, a gelling agent in food."
- Memory Metals (1997). "Another commercial application of memory metal technology is found in a "smart" eyeglass frame that remembers its shape and its wearer's fit. A patented "memory encoding process" makes this possible. Heat is not required to return the glasses to shape. A large commercial market is anticipated." I'm wearing one now.
Geeze, just exploring the NASA database is humbling. There are lists of spin offs at The Space Place and the NASA Kids site is fun for kids and... well, you get the picture. The space program has more than paid for the money we put into it.
It was no coincidence that the two superpowers in the last century were marked by space programs. And it's no coincidence that the only remaining superpower is the country with the largest investment in R&D. Money spent looking into space reaps big rewards on the ground.
Conservative politics have held back progress, but the bold vision held by liberals such as JFK should not be forgotten. On this New Years Day, let us celebrate and look ahead!