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The Benefits of NASA

As a child I was always infatuated with the concept of space and space travel. Growing up, I envisioned myself becoming an astronaut and exploring the universe – a mixture of Captain Picard, Marc Garneau, and Jacques cousteau.

I remember with vivid details the Challenger accident, and then many years later the Columbia accident. Many brave people died on those ships, explorers who traveled in the footsteps of people like Columbus and Magellan.

So, it was with great interest that I followed the launch of the shuttle Discovery on July 4th. i was excited by the launch, and happy that everything went off without a hitch. Then, on July 17th, I was heartened by the safe return of the shuttle, and its crew of 6 astronauts (Astronaut Thomas Reiter stayed aboard the International Space Station).

And then it happened. I began to hear people complain. Complaining about the space program – why? The most common complaint seemed to be that it was a waste of money, that the government should be spending more on social programs, or perhaps just taking less in the first place. It seems that many people simply associate the space program with Tang and little pens that write upside down.

With a new shuttle mission planned for tomorrow, I thought that I should outline a few of the more memorable and important discoveries that the space program has resulted in. The easiest one to think of is satellite communications technology. Everybody has heard of satellite television, but even if you have cable, your programming was broadcast to the cable company via satellite. Weather forecasting is greatly aided by satellite technology, and many lives have been saved by Global Positioning Systems.

The basic technologies that NASA discovers always trickle down to the consumer level, whether it be water purification systems for third world countries, digital mammography equipment to help diagnoses and heal our families, or even the most basic of all Man Tools, the cordless drill.

Cordless power tools? That’s right. NASA partnered with Black & Decker during the Apollo missions to create a power tool that could operate from a battery.

The last time you were at a Doctors office, did you have a thermometer stuffed up your butt, or did the nurse simply place a probe in your ear and press a button? The Infrared Thermometer was a direct spin-off of NASA Space Shuttle technology.

Did you know that the smoke detector, a device which saves thousands of lives a year was invented by NASA? This technology was originally created by Honeywell for NASA’s Skylab space station in the 1970’s.

In fact, there is a lot more spin-off technology than even I had imagined. So much infact, that NASA publishes a book every year detailing the spin-offs. You can find it here: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/

Also check out this site showing some of the more common, day-to-day items that have been developed by, or as a result of the space program. http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home.html