When people think about advanced technology, many of them think about space exploration. The space age was one of the best examples of how technical expertise can lead to amazing feats. However, humanity gained more from the space program than just getting to visit the moon. Many everyday items, some of which we take for granted, exist only because of space research.
Many people believe that space exploration is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Who cares about visiting planet when we already have so many problems here on Earth? Nevertheless, space technology is a vital component of any research and development program. Research in this field leads to the creation of several useful products, many of which make our lives more comfortable.
Photovoltaic cells, also known as solar panels, are now considered a significant player in the renewable energy transition of several countries. These devices convert sunlight directly into electricity, providing many households with a cheap and clean energy source.
Solar panel technology already existed before the start of space exploration, but models back then were inefficient. Rockets need to minimize their weight since it takes a lot of energy to escape the Earth’s atmosphere. Hence, researchers focused on reducing the burden of solar panels while making them more efficient.
Without space research, solar panels today would be a lot clunkier, making them harder to transport and install. Thanks to NASA’s analysis, solar technology was able to become a leader in renewable energy.
Astronauts back then had a problem. Accelerating a rocket so that it can lift off into space requires extreme amounts of force. Astronauts can experience forces that are more than ten times their weight. These intense G-forces can easily injure them outright or prevent them from operating the ships during takeoff.
One potential solution is to create customized seats that evenly distribute the pressure throughout an astronaut’s entire body. The only problem with them is that they need to be updated frequently as astronauts’ bodies change in proportions during training.
Engineers came up with a remedy: a substance that can conform to anyone’s body then return to its original shape even after repeated use. After several trials, NASA was able to develop the first version of the memory foam. Decades later, NASA released memory foam into the public domain during the 1980s.
Today, many items of clothing and apparel depend on memory foam to ensure that users are well-cushioned and protected.
Regular food is unsuitable for astronauts. Because of their moisture content, food items tend to add significantly to cargo weight, requiring more rocket fuel for a successful launch. Typical food also tends to spoil quickly, which makes it challenging to provide well-balanced meals during missions that can take weeks to finish.
NASA experimented with freeze-drying, which allows sensitive items to lose moisture without being destroyed. During the mid-20th century, freeze-drying was already being used to help preserve blood components. Researchers were able to apply the same technology to food. The result is spoilage-resistant food that weighs 20% of its original weight and retains almost all of its nutrients.
There are other examples of useful technologies from the space age, such as scratch-resistant coatings and camera units small enough to fit in a smartphone. Hence, we need to keep supporting research projects. Research into space exploration and similar frontiers lead to benefits that trickle down to everyday citizens.