Space Exploration – What has it got to do with us?

Uncategorized — By on December 17, 2017 at 9:41 am

Article by Hinna Shivkumar

“How do we benefit from space exploration in day-to-day life?
Why is it worth spending millions and billions on it?
Where do I see it being useful in my day-to-day life?”

Such questions are often brought up in conversations regarding space exploration. Space sciences and space exploration may seem like areas of research that do not affect us directly back on Earth but, in reality, it is surprising to see the many “spinoffs” (as NASA likes to call the resulting benefits) these fields provide us with back on Earth.

One significant application is how space exploration has changed the way we communicate. It was in fact the rise of space exploration that provided the possibility of expanding communication networks to a global scale.

The first satellites were designed to mainly explore low Earth orbit and study the vacuum of space. While the data received from these initial missions were focused mainly on space sciences and exploration, they also conveniently developed the knowledge and technology needed for what is needed for our modern devices to communicate with each other.

Satellites are used to amplify radio signals from the ground and relay them back to a second station on the ground. Remote regions, such as oil rigs, require the use of satellite phones as a means of communication. In addition to that, the Global Positioning System (GPS) is made possible through networks of satellites. Overall, by forming networks of satellites in orbit, quick and efficient transfer of information is now provided to the global population.

Weather and Natural Disasters
Another consequence of the development of the first satellites is the rise of better weather forecasting satellites that are able to predict weather changes and patterns. These satellites have been designed to study the weather, atmosphere, ice sheets, forests and several features on Earth. This is important since tracking weather patterns and natural disasters helps meteorologists on Earth take the necessary precautions that ultimately help save natural resources, man-made constructions and in more dire cases, even lives. In addition to tracking extreme weather, these satellites provide important information related to weather changes to sailors and pilots that allows them to change their trajectory as needed. As technology used on these satellites is improved, they will become more accurate in providing such significant information in these uses.

Eye of Hurricane Dean

                          Eye of Hurricane Dean
Credits: NASA

From the International Space Station (ISS)
Many significant benefits of space exploration come from the International Space Station.

The International Space Station is essentially a laboratory housing hundreds of experiments related to several fields of research. For example, biological experiments have lead to advancements that can help with medical help on Earth currently and in the near future. A few examples are worth mentioning since they capture the essence of the research done aboard the ISS.

One of these examples is the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) experiment. This experiment is being developed to give rise to faster and remotely-guided ultrasound technology. Another experiment on the ISS, the Eye Tracking Device, provides data that is helping surgeons perform laser eye surgery even more precisely. By studying the data from this experiment, scientists are facilitating surgery by helping track the eye of the patient, making the surgery easier to perform.

The Eye Tracking Device

                         The Eye Tracking Device 5_improved_eye_surgery720_0.jpg

Another example comes from the famous Canadarm and Canadarm2 by the Canadian Space Agency that gave important insights into the development of the neuroArm. These developments proved to be capable of performing delicate surgeries that are otherwise said to be inoperable, such as certain brain tumors. It is also worth mentioning one of the most well-known studies conducted on the ISS – bone and muscle loss. The study of osteoporosis has lead to the development of potential treatments for the same.

Videos and images of astronauts playing with water globules are quite famous online but studying the science of dynamics of water and other fluids has lead to a new medical testing device. This device can possibly improve diagnosis of HIV/AIDS through analysis of capillary flow in space.

Capillary Flow Experiment aboard ISS

            Capillary Flow Experiment aboard ISS
Credits: NASA

Another example of one of the most famous experiments performed on the ISS is growing lettuce on the station. However, this also eventually lead to possible solutions for mold prevention. When scientists noticed that ethylene was destroying plants within growth chambers, the ADVASC (Advanced Astroculture) was developed to remove this naturallyoccurring plant hormone, viruses, bacteria and mold. Back on Earth, this system can be used for air purification, in wine cellars and in grocery stores.

From Laboratories on Earth
Research done on Earth to improve space exploration has also provided benefits to the global population. One example is the development of FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) by using the expertise of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in radar. FINDER is able to isolate the weak signal of human heartbeat and breathing from other noisy signals. Whether the person underneath the rubble is conscious or not, the device is sensitive enough to detect their presence. FINDER also has the potential to be further developed for other uses and applications.

Motivation and Collaborations
For the younger generation, space exploration inspires and motivates these future explorers. For nations, collaborations between space agencies brings them together and creates opportunities to address and solve global problems such as climate change, natural disasters, and potential asteroid strikes. When several agencies collaborate, such as for the ISS, a sense of cosmic citizenship is remarkably felt.

The International Space Station is a collaboration between many nations

The International Space Station is a collaboration                          between many nations

Space exploration is driven by the inherent curiosity of the human mind. This curiosity has lead to countless benefits to life on Earth, be it technological, economical or innovational. The essence of adventure that comes with space exploration has made the world come together to watch the first men walk on the Moon, rovers land on Mars, rockets landing to be reused and a satellite crashing into the ringed planet. The beauty of it all attracts many but the benefits of it help all.


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