What’s NASA Ever Done For Planet Earth?
– Why Looking For Other Planets and Life Forms Benefits Our Planet.
Since President Eisenhower founded NASA and began the space race in 1958, fewer than 600 people have travelled into space. This is a tiny proportion of the world’s population, but the scientific advancements required for space flight have crossed over into our everyday lives in ways which are benefitting families across the planet.
Cordless Technology for DIY Enthusiasts
Back in the late 1960s when NASA engineers were working towards putting man onto the moon, they hit upon a problem. How were the astronauts going to drill lumps of the moon’s surface to take back to Earth for examination? Powered drills with flexes connecting them to a power source were a possibility, but would greatly restrict astronauts in terms of where they could reach. Scientists working on the Apollo project therefore came up with the idea of a cordless drill, which was powered entirely by batteries and which worked just as well as its traditional counterpart. Well-known tool company Black and Decker were put to work developing the cordless drills, and the experience and knowledge they gained through their collaboration with NASA resulted in the range of cordless drills, vacuum cleaners, screwdrivers and other tools which most of us have at home in our toolkits.
Food Safety Protocols
From the beginning of space flight, NASA was acutely aware of the need to provide astronauts with food which was completely free from parasites or bacteria, and which would be safe to eat in space. Working with some of America’s biggest food producers, NASA came up with a new system of food safety based around critical control points which tried to eliminate and prevent hazards associated with food production rather than inspecting completed items and discarding those which appeared to be contaminated. This ethos of “prevention is better than cure” was quickly adopted throughout the food production industry not only in the USA but across the globe, and similar systems have been introduced in the pharmaceutical and defence industries.
Anyone who has ever been at the finishing line of a marathon or who has seen people being rescued in extreme weather will be familiar with the shiny silver sheets known as “space blankets”. This is one invention for which NASA can take direct credit. After a problem with a Skylab aircraft overheating in the early 1970s, NASA used a thin sheet of insulating material to replace the faulty heat shield. The blankets are made from a very thin layer of plastic coated with a reflective metal. The benefits of this insulating sheeting for space flight are obvious as the blankets are extremely light and can help reflect as much as 97% of heat back into the wearer. They are waterproof, windproof and have saved many lives in situations where a patient has developed hypothermia. Similar technology, which also has its roots in the insulation products used on board space craft and satellites, has been used to produce insulating boards and sheets to keep our homes warm and reduce our energy bills.
A Comfortable Night’s Sleep Guaranteed with Memory Foam
An astronaut’s body is put under enormous pressure during a rocket launch and as space travel became a reality in the mid-1960s, research began into any materials which could help absorb some of the G-forces experienced in flight. One of the results of this research was a material called visco-elastic polyurethane, more commonly known as memory foam. Memory foam didn’t make the cut when it came to protecting astronauts in space as was thought to be not robust enough to stand up to pressures in space, so NASA took the formula and sold it on for medical uses. Twenty years later, a Swedish company saw the possibilities of using the foam to make mattresses or pillows which would mould to someone’s body and be supportive and warm, and the Tempur-pedic mattress was born. Although some improvements were required before the foam was suitable for domestic use, the concept of the product is truly space-age.
High-Tech Swimming Gear
Much of the research done by NASA over the years is about reducing drag; making its spacecraft more streamlined and efficient so that they can travel faster and further using the same fuel. After the Olympics in 2004, scientists working at NASA were approached by leading swimwear company Speedo to help them develop a swimsuit which worked on the same principles. Together, they developed the LZR full body suit with innovative ways of joining panels and concealing zips which reduced drag through the water by 6%. By the 2008 Olympics, swimmers were clamouring to wear the streamlined swimsuit, and with world records being broken almost every week, the swimming authorities took the unusual step of banning the LZR body suit, stating it gave the swimmer an unfair advantage. Although banned from competition, the products using the NASA technology are still available for sale to anyone wanting to make a high-tech impression at their local pool.
Can your Science Class find more great ways that NASA & the Space Program has helped us here on Earth? Can you make a display to show how much information you've collected and the way our lives have been transformed by scientific discoveries in space – we'd love to showcase your displays here on our blog & on our social networks.
https://spinoff.nasa.gov/spinoff2001/johnson_mill.html – cordless drills