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It has been 25 years since the space shuttle Challenger exploded upon lift-off, and our space program has never truly recovered. After the tragic explosion President Reagan comforted the American public but also pledged to continue with space exploration. With the second space shuttle tragedy President Bush began the process of grounding the shuttles altogether. With only three more flights scheduled, Americas domination in space is set to end. And along with it our investment in our future is also set to end.
Our vision of one day traveling space, the final frontier, like Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise is becoming a pipe dream. The reality of it ever happening is becoming less and less. America needs NASA and all her innovation, the space program has saved lives made our day-to-day living more pleasurable and is a source of pride for all Americans.
One of President Obama’s fist acts as President was to reshape and refocus NASA, with the directive to become a quasar diplomatic are of the US government.
“Bolden: I am here in the region – its sort of the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s visit to Cairo – and his speech there when he gave what has now become known as Obama’s “Cairo Initiative” where he announced that he wanted this to become a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. When I became the NASA Administrator – before I became the NASA Administrator – he charged me with three things: One was that he wanted me to re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, that he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with predominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.” (source)
NASA as an outreach to the Muslim world, really, that’s our space program. Yes President Obama also had some ambition that also included space, but the simple fact that NASA is not in public relations with the Muslim world sets a new tone for our space program. One that is not space oriented, but rather one that is diplomatic in nature.
This is a new tone for NASA, one that is as far as you can get from the tone that JFK set for America:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
(Kennedy’s Speech: + HTML Excerpt, + PDF Excerpt, + Full Text) (source)
The American space program is part and parcel to American exceptionalism, we must continue to spend time, talent and money in this endeavor. American needs NASA now more than ever, we need something to place our dreams in and we need to see achievements that we once thought were impossible. The Space Program has given us many modern technologies, such as:
1. SATELLITE TELEVISION: Our world would not be the same without the satellites now in orbit around the Earth – all thanks to the space program. They not only give us satellite broadcast television and radio but also power telecommunications including mobile phones and terrestrial TV networks.
2. SAT NAV: The global positioning system on which our in-car navigation systems are based was developed by the US Department of Defense. They would not exist without the space satellites.
3. GOOGLE EARTH: Mapping was never as accurate as the images we can now get thanks to satellites which from space can even see a dog in your back garden.
4. VIRTUAL REALITY: NASA-developed research and advanced technology devices allow users to project themselves into a computer-generated environment. When coupled with a stereo-viewing device and appropriate software, it creates a feeling of actually being there.
5. ARTIFICIAL LIMBS: Prosthetic limbs are not new but advancements in space robotics are being adapted to create more lifelike, functioning limbs.
6. DIALYSIS: Modern machines to do the work of the kidneys – for patients waiting for or unable to have transplants – were developed as a result of a NASA-developed chemical process.
7. MRI AND CAT SCANS: NASA did not invent magnetic resonance imaging but it has contributed to major advances thanks to research into computer enhancement of pictures sent from the moon. Digital image processing has led to enhanced images of human organs.
8. BREAST CANCER SCREENING: A silicon chip originally developed for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope makes the testing process less painful, less scarring and less expensive than traditional biopsy methods.
Heroes … Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin
9. ULTRASOUND TO ASSESS SKIN DAMAGE: An advanced instrument uses ultrasound technology to assess the depth of burn damage immediately, improving patient treatment and saving lives in serious burn cases.
10. EAR THERMOMETER: Removing the need to use intrusive, mercury-based thermometers on newborn babies and critically ill patients, the ear thermometer uses infrared astronomy technology to measure the amount of energy emitted by the eardrum. This is how NASA measures the temperature of stars and planets.
11. ATTENTION GETTER: Techniques used to measure brain activity in NASA pilots are being used to improve attention spans for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
12. ROAD SAFETY: The cutting of grooves in concrete to increase traction was developed to reduce space shuttle accidents on runways. It is now applied to roads and has cut US traffic accidents by 85 per cent.
13. IMPROVED RADIAL TYRES: Goodyear developed a fibrous material five times stronger than steel for NASA to use in parachutes to land the Viking explorers on Mars. They expanded the technology to produce a harder-wearing radial car tire.
14. LANDMINE REMOVAL: Surplus rocket fuel is used for a flare that can burn a hole in the case of a mine and burn away its explosive content.
15. STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS: NASA software engineers have created thousands of computer programs to find imperfections in aerospace structures and components which has proved invaluable in air safety.
16. WATER FILTERS: Water-cleaning technology has existed since the early Fifties but NASA came up with ways to filter it in more extreme situations. The activated charcoal with silver ions used in commercial filter systems cleans the water and kills bacteria.
17. FREEZE-DRIED FOOD: NASA carried out extensive research to reduce the weight of food to be carried on missions. The result was a method for cooking food, freezing it quickly, then slowly heating it in a vacuum chamber to remove the ice crystals. The end product weighs one fifth of the original, while retaining 98 per cent of its nutrition.
18. TEMPER FOAM: NASA developed a soft, high-energy-absorbent padding to improve crash protection in aircraft. Now ?memory foam? is used in mattresses, pillows, military and civilian vehicles, sports safety equipment, amusement park rides, furniture and artificial limbs.
19. SCRATCH-RESISTANT LENSES: A modified version of a process developed by NASA involves coating the lenses with a film of carbon that helps avoid scratches and decreases friction and reduces water spots.
20. RIBBED SWIMSUITS: The swimsuit worn by Olympic sensation Michael Phelps was developed with NASA technology. Aerodynamic research came up with material which give 15 per cent faster speeds than any other swimsuit thanks to small, barely visible grooves that reduce friction and drag.
21. AERODYNAMIC GOLF BALLS: Technology is behind the design of golf balls with 500 dimples in a pattern of 60 triangles which allows the ball to maintain its initial speed longer and produce a more stable flight for better accuracy and distance.
22. ATHLETIC SHOES: Moon-boot material has been incorporated into running shoe midsoles to improve shock absorption and provide better stability and motion control.
23. PERSONAL ALARM SYSTEMS: A pen-sized ultrasonic transmitter used by prison guards, teachers, the elderly and disabled to call for help is based on space technology.
24. SPACE PENS: Most pens depend on gravity to make the ink flow to the ballpoint. The space pen was developed for the gravity-free space environment so that the ink cartridge contains pressurized gas to push the ink towards the ballpoint, so you can write upside down.
25. CORDLESS POWER TOOLS: The household and DIY products firm Black & Decker came up with a portable drill capable of extracting core samples from below the lunar surface during the Apollo missions. The same technology has been used on cordless miniature vacuum cleaners. (source)
Think cell phone, microwaved dinners and the computer I am using to post this blog. NASA may not have invented all of them, but it is because of NASA and the innovations created for our space program that I am able to post to the net at all.
So instead of looking to high-speed trains as an investment into America, look to NASA. I would consider that to be a nobler investment, and one that would have a far greater impact on American than a train that can get me from Detroit to DC in 1 hour. With NASA fully funded and achievable goals the sky truly is the limit for the American Dream.