Public Opinion About Space Exploration - Practical Benefits Of Space Travel
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Although it is widely acknowledged that space travel has psychological and scientific benefits to society, it is more difficult to point to everyday products that have directly resulted from the nation's space program. Certainly satellites have brought about great changes in telecommunications, navigation, military operations, and weather prediction. All of these developments do affect American lives. The technologies associated with space exploration have advanced the fields of robotics, computer programming, and cryogenics (the physics of extremely cold temperatures). In addition, improvements based on NASA technologies have been incorporated into such diverse products as memory foam mattresses, medical imaging devices, eyeglass lenses, golf balls, baby food, pacemakers, and life rafts.
One of the mandates of the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act is that the agency (and its contractors) must publicize any new developments significant to commercial industry. NASA accomplishes this through four publications: the newsletter Technology Innovation; a monthly magazine for engineers, managers, and scientists called NASA Tech Briefs that briefly describes new technologies; Technical Support Packages, which describe in detail the technologies presented in NASA Tech Briefs; and Spinoff, an annual publication describing successfully commercialized NASA technology.
In 2003 NASA released a booklet called NASA Hits: Rewards from Space—How NASA Improves Our Quality of Life. The booklet describes many practical benefits associated with NASA's work in space flight, space science, Earth science, and aeronautical research and development, including:
- Communications satellite technology
- Medical monitoring systems used in intensive care units
- The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for ensuring food safety
- The NASTRAN software system for computerized design
- Space-based beacon locators used in satellite-based search and rescue systems
- Use of thin grooves in concrete airport runways and highways to improve drainage and reduce hydroplaning
- Advances in hydroponics (growing crops using water rather than soil to support plants)
- Improved hurricane forecasting and wildfire tracking using Earth-observing satellites
- Developments in microelectromechanical systems (extremely small devices and sensors about the diameter of a human hair)
- Combustion research that has improved the performance of jet engines
- Suspension techniques used by animal researchers
- A new light source now used to improve chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients
- Needle-based biopsies used in breast cancer diagnosis
- Bioreactors (devices used to turn cell cultures into functional tissue)
- Lifeshears (a hand-held shearing tool used by rescue workers to free people trapped in cars or underneath rubble)
The booklet also discusses patents and Nobel prizes associated with NASA-funded research and development.
In 1988 NASA and the private organization, The Space Foundation, established the Space Technology Hall of Fame. Its stated purpose is "to honor the innovators who have transformed space technology into commercial products, to increase public awareness of the benefits of space technology and to encourage further innovation." Each year a handful of space-based technologies are selected for induction into the Hall of Fame. Inductees are honored at an annual conference held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, called the National Space Symposium. Table 9.3 lists technologies honored in recent years. Previous Hall of Fame winners familiar to consumers include satellite radio technology and DirecTV satellite systems.
|Space Technology Hall of Fame inductees, 2004–05|
|SOURCE: Adapted from "2004 Space Technology Hall of Fame," in Technology Innovation, vol. 11, no. 4, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Fall 2004, http://nctn.hq.nasa.gov/innovation/innovation114/0-content.html and "2005 Space Technology Hall of Fame," in Technology Innovation, vol. 12, no. 1, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2005, http://ipp.nasa.gov/innovation/innovation115/0-content.html (accessed December 29, 2005)|
|2005||InnerVue™ Diagnostic Scope System||Uses space image enhancement technology and a disposable micro-invasive endoscope to enable doctors to see clearly inside joints with minimum patient discomfort.|
|NanoCeram® Superfilters||Water filters comprised of nanometer-size particles. Far exceed current filtration systems and can handle extremely difficult treatment requirements.|
|Outlast Technologies, Inc. Smart Fabric Technology™||Contains micro-materials that can absorb, store and release heat. Used in consumer products such as active wear. Derived from research on materials to protect astronauts in space.|
|Portable Hyperspectral Imaging Systems||Portable device for hyperspectral imagery (energy measurement). Has diagnostic applications in the bio-medical, forensics, counter terrorism, food safety, and Earth imaging markets.|
|2004||LADARVision 4000 (LASIK eye surgery)||Uses a laser and eye-tracking device to reshape the cornea with extreme precision. Based on technology used to assist spacecraft in delicate docking maneuvers.|
|MedStar Medical/Health Monitoring System||Miniature physiological monitoring device that can collect and analyze numerous signals in real time. Used to monitor astronauts on the ISS.|
|Multi-Junction (MJ) Space Solar Cells||High-efficiency solar-cell technology that reduces costs for the life cycle of space missions, telecommunication, weather forecasting and other services.|
|Precision Global Positioning System (GPS) Software System||Sophisticated system that delivers information enabling real-time positioning accurate to within a few inches. Based on software developed at JPL to determine the location of satellite orbits.|
The Public Speaks Out
Polls were conducted on the tenth, twenty-fifth, and thirtieth anniversaries of the Apollo 11 moon landing to quiz the public regarding the benefits of the nation's space program.
In each poll the participants were asked whether they believe the space program has benefited the country enough to justify its costs. A 1979 poll conducted by NBC News and the Associated Press found that only 41% of respondents considered the benefits worth the costs. A majority (53%) thought the expense was not worth what was accomplished. In a 1994 Gallup poll Americans were evenly split on the issue, with 47% taking each side. By 1999 the space program had earned a bit more respect. Gallup reported that 55% of those asked believed the space program's benefits justified its cost, while 40% did not.
In June and July 2004 Gallup asked Americans whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement "the quality of our daily lives has benefited from the knowledge and technology that have come from our nation's space program." As shown in Figure 9.7 more than two-thirds of those asked (68%) agreed with the statement, while 16% disagreed. Another 16% were neutral on the subject.