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The Universe Through A Lens

November 11, 2021

Milky Way Image

Some of you know that Jill plans, in her next life, to be a space traveler. In this life, she gets car sick so leaving earth’s atmosphere isn’t going to happen. 😊 Nevertheless, she enjoys learning what is on the horizon outside of Earth.

NASA has done a poor job of telling us the benefits society has gained from discoveries and inventions for the space program.

According to USA Today, “Inventions we use every day that were actually created for space exploration,” (July 8, 2019), we now have:

  • Artificial limbs – what had been developed for space vehicles translates to make artificial human limbs “more functional, durable, comfortable and life-like.”
  • Scratch-resistant lenses – NASA required a scratch resistant helmet. Research by Foster Grant created what NASA needed. The development is now part of most sunglasses and prescription lenses. You frequently see the words “scratch resistant.”
  • Insulin pump – astronauts’ vital signs are tracked in space. (Remember the scene in Apollo 13 when they pulled off all the vital sign tracking equipment?) What was developed is used to regulate blood levels and release insulin as needed.
  • Firefighting equipment – Astronaut suits that were flame retardant, stayed cool and provided life support translated to equipment for firefighters.
  • DustBusters – NASA working with Black & Decker. They needed battery operated tools that were light weight and cordless. Think of all that we use today that fits this category.
  • LASIK – Jill had both eyes done in 1998. NASA wanted to track astronauts’ eye positions in a weightless environment. During LASIK surgery, this device tracks a patient’s eye position.
  • Shock Absorbers – developed to protect equipment during launches, shock absorbers developed are now used to protect bridges and buildings – especially in earthquake prone areas.
  • Water filtration – NASA filtration systems developed in the 1970s for astronauts are now part of our everyday technology.
  • Tires – Goodyear Tire and Rubber invented material used for the Viking Lander. Now radial tires, stronger than steel and adding thousands of miles to tires are standard.
  • Wireless headsets – something used by most of us daily was developed for hands-free communication between NASA and the astronauts.
  • Adjustable smoke detector – Honeywell Corporation, in the 1970s created a way to adjust the sensitivity to smoke to avoid false alarms.
  • Invisible braces – Ceradyne and NASA found a way to protect radar equipment using a clear material. Ceradyne, Unitek/3M worked together with this material and created invisible braces.
  • Freeze-dried foods – We’ve all heard about these types of meals. The Tasters Choice coffee comes to mind. Certainly, better than reconstituted meals.
  • Camera phones – a miniature imaging system using low energy yet produced high quality photos was developed in the 1990s by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • CAT scans – The underlying technology for CAT scans and MRIs was founded on the digital technology used by NASA to recreate moon images on the Apollo missions.

Other items invented through NASA are:

  • Baby formula ingredients
  • Lifeshears (can cut into cars in emergencies)
  • Grooved pavements (used in highways and runways)
  • Air purifiers
  • Memory foam
  • Workout machines (needed because of impact of zero gravity on astronauts’ bodies)
  • Home insulation now used in every day construction
  • Infrared ear thermometers
  • Ice-resistant airplanes
  • Portable computer
  • LEDs
  • 3D food printing
  • Computer mouse
  • Athletic shoes

The lead time for space exploration is decades. Currently under construction is the James Webb Space Telescope. This is a project with space agencies from Europe, Canada and NASA. The telescope is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and will orbit the sun.

Using infrared wavelengths, the plan is to find how galaxies are formed, look for elements of life in other galaxies, peer into dusty clouds that the Hubble cannot.

It too has created inventions translating into everyday life. Different inventions to launch this are resulting in improved diagnostics for ocular disease, laser devices improving semiconductor manufacturing, condensed electronics that helped repair Hubble. This technology is also being applied to our mobile phones.

So, Jill will enjoy watching the next phase of exploration dreaming of her flight in her next life. She is especially partial to space opera books. No surprise there.

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