/ NASA Spinoff Technology
This is a research paper assignment for my history class. We were told to pick a debatable topic from the 20th Century, pick a side, and then support our opinion. It needs to be six pages long and have at least seven resources. I've gone a bit over on that. In fact, I worry that there are too many facts plopped onto the page without really making a point. The document lost some of its formatting when I cut and pasted-paragraphs are indented, the long quotes are indented, and a few of the words are italicized. I have moved paragraphs and sentences around so many times that I can't see the forest for the trees at this point. I would love critical input. Thank you.
The launch of Sputnik in 1957 signaled a dawn of a new era, a time where the world's eyes were turned to the starry skies. There was no starting line and no finish line, but it was a race-the space race. In this epoch, technology shaping day-to-day life was changing at a dizzying pace. Many of these new technologies were the direct result of National Aeronautical and Space Administration-NASA-developments. With .5% of the National budget going toward NASA (Government Printing Office), have taxpayers received their money's worth? How have the American people benefited from NASA? The answer may surprise. As a premiere research and development agency, NASA has generated spin-off technologies impacting myriad fields from medicine to safety and manufacturing to sports.
Myths and misconceptions exist which can detract from NASA's true value. Asking the average man on the street to name some NASA spin-off technologies, the first things that would probably come to mind are the beverage Tang, Velcro, and Teflon. Even though these inventions are commonly linked with the space program, none of them are actually NASA spin-off technologies. It is not surprising that people have these misconceptions. In her book, A Cultural History of the United States, Gini Holland says, "the space industry gave the world new products and technology, from powdered 'orange juice' called Tang and Velcro closures" (120). Tang was invented as a powdered drink in 1957 for General Foods Corporation. First marketed in 1959, sales fell flat. When astronauts used it on the Gemini space flights in 1965, the beverage quickly became associated with space travel and American kids drank it in droves to emulate their heroes (Tang). Velcro was invented by Swiss Engineer, George de Mestral, who gained a patent in 1955 as a replacement for the zipper with no forethought to its use by NASA (Bridgman 218). Teflon, a compound consisting of carbon and fluorine known for its ability as a non-stick coating, was accidentally invented by DuPont engineer Roy Plunkett and patented in 1941-long before NASA's existence (Bridgman 201).
With the impression that NASA spin-off technology consists solely of a powered beverage, closures for kids' shoes, and non-stick cookware; many Americans fail to understand NASA's merit. CBS News anchor Katie Couric concluded a 2006 broadcast on the 49th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik by saying:
NASA's requested budget for 2007 is nearly $17 billion. There are some who argue that money would be better spent on solid ground, for medical research, social programs or in finding solutions to poverty, hunger and homelessness . . . I can't help but wonder what all that money could do for people right here on planet Earth (Brooks).
NASA publishes Spinoff magazine annually in an attempt to help Americans like Couric understand that NASA's spending does benefit people here on Earth (Spinoff 3).
Perhaps the most apparent benefit from NASA-developed technology is the medical field. NASA robotics research has led to wheelchairs that respond to the user's voice. Using 35 one-word commands, the wheelchair helps users accomplish many everyday tasks, such as picking up packages (NASA Spinoffs). The same technology developed for robotic tools on space vehicles has been incorporated into artificial limbs for amputees (Cray). When NASA engineers faced the difficulty of locating a safe landing spot amidst the dust fields of the moon, they developed a scanning system using high-frequency sound waves, magnets, and computers. This new scanning technology translated into ultrasounds, MRI machines, and CAT-scans widely used by doctors (Angelo 191). Technology used by the Viking craft that landed on the planet Mars can be found in automated pumps that deliver insulin to diabetics replacing the need for numerous daily injections (Space Exploration 56). An estimated 1.3 billion people wear glasses. Many glasses and most telescopes are equipped with scratch-resistant lenses developed by NASA (NASA in Your Life).
In addition to medical advances, NASA spin-off technologies have made life safer for American workers and families. The lack of Earth's atmosphere presents challenges to astronauts in space. With temperatures ranging from -150 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit in space, astronauts require spacesuits to maintain their body temperature, provide oxygen, and allow for movement (Space Exploration 63). The technologies developed for spacesuits are now used by firefighters here on Earth. NASA technology led to the development of smoke detectors used in most homes and public buildings. Fire-retardant fabrics used in the manufacture of furniture, mattresses, and children's sleepwear are also a result of space program research (SPAACSE). NASA spin-off technologies have provided faster response to emergencies because of Global Positioning Satellite technology and better communications with satellite radios (Spinoff). Although people may not always heed warnings, NASA technologies have vastly improved weather forecasting and advance warning of dangerous storms (Angelo 161). NASA knowledge has increased road safety by adding safety grooving to highways (Conger).
NASA spin-off technologies have also helped to improve manufacturing practices and productivity. Iron, nickel, cobalt, chromium, and manganese are the only magnetic solids, but NASA was able to develop magnetic liquids. Using dissolved iron in an aqueous solution, NASA scientists synthesized a liquid attracted to magnets causing it to move uphill, or even stand up in the form of a pyramid. These magnetized liquids are capable of forming airtight seals. Magnetized liquids are used in the manufacture of electronic products, industrial processes, visual displays, and medical equipment. Most computer memory disk drives use magnetic fluids for exclusion seals and they are useful for dampening motion in car's shock absorbers and on bridges (Amazing Magnetic Fluids). Companies have incorporated NASA technology into their manufacturing processes making food more nutritious. When NASA was faced with the problem of food storage in the environment of space, engineers developed a process to preserve food by freeze-drying while maintaining the food's important nutrients. The food designed for space travel provided a boon to backpackers. Before the advent of freeze-dried foods, backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts struggled to find foods that wouldn't spoil or weigh them down (sti.nasa.gov). In the early stages of human development nutrients are key to healthy development. Nutrition and food safety in baby foods are enhanced using NASA methods (sti.nasa.gov).
NASA technology has benefited consumers in other ways as well. NASA research into aerodynamics and fuel efficiency for spacecraft has been implemented by the auto industry. A solar-powered car using European Space Agency advancements won the World Solar Challenge Race across the Australian continent-1,870 miles-in 32 hours and 39 minutes (Space Exploration 62). American consumers have enjoyed flat-screen televisions and gamers have benefited from joysticks honed in NASA labs (The Space Place).
NASA technologies have even found their way into the world of sports. Michael Phelps made a big splash in the 2008 Summer Olympics in high-performance swimwear made of NASA-engineered technology and honed in NASA wind tunnels. In a world where hundredths of a second count, swimsuits engineered to reduce drag can mean the difference between medaling and going home empty handed (Speedo). Although swimwear the highest profile NASA contribution to sports, other technologies have had an impact. Or should we say that spin-off technologies have decreased the impact that sports have on the human body? NASA materials have found their way into tennis shoes that provide more stability and higher performance for athletes. Temper foam developed by NASA is used in mattresses as well as for crash protection in sports helmets and in racecars. NASA has helped to develop thermal gloves and fog-free goggles that have aided the comfort of skiers (Conger).
Taxpayer expenditures on NASA have not been free of controversy. The most notable adversary is the Taxpayers Union that would like to see NASA "put on the auction block" and all assets sold off to the highest bidder in the private sector (Klerkx 338). The Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit organization concerned with government waste, is especially offended by the $1 billion windfall NASA will receive to pad its budget under President Obama's stimulus plan. "The first thing you do when you're digging a hole is to stop digging," says Taxpayers Union vice president Pete Sepp (Boudreau and Zamost). Representative Bart Gordon, Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology along with Representative Brad Miller, Chairman of the Subcommitte on Investigations and Oversight, called for the firing of NASA's Inspector General Robert Cobb for being "one of the least productive IGs in the federal government" (Gordon and Miller). Cobb resigned on April 11, 2009 (Associated Press). Other industry insiders argue that NASA is underfunded. In an article published on Space.com, Miles O'Brien says:
We have done nothing to equal (much less top) the accomplishments of Apollo. And even worse, we haven't tried. We did something truly great, but then walked away from it. We had lightening in a bottle-and we opened the lid. Our country has been pulling the rug out from NASA ever since Apollo (O'Brien).
O'Brien is not alone in his view that NASA needs more funding. Brian Dubie, Lt. Governor of Vermont and Chairman of the Aerospace States Association, calls for an "increase investment in NASA's space science and aeronautics research, especially in the area of propulsion, energy and the environment." Dubie would like to see NASA receive 1% of the budget "to keep the technology engine of America moving strong" (Dubie 42). When you consider that a non-stop flight from Washington D.C. to Los Angles takes longer than the time it took John Glen to orbit the Earth three times in 1962, it becomes obvious that there are still gains to be made in the use of NASA technology-especially in the arena of commercial aviation (Traylor).
Since 1958, American taxpayers have fueled NASA to the tune of $416 billion (NASA Budget). The sum is staggering, but considering NASA's fifty-year history of research and development, it is money well spent. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for comparison's sake, have cost the United States $604 billion over a seven-year period (NASA Budget). In its nascent year 1958, NASA had 8,000 employees and a budget of $100 million (Lanunius, Fries, and Gibson). NASA's currently employs about 17,000 people with the 2009 budget at 17.9 billion dollars (NASA.gov). Has the American public gotten its money's worth from the space race and resulting spin-off technologies? With NASA spending a mere .5% of the United State's national budget, it is arguable that the American public has indeed gotten their money's worth. The investment in NASA has paid dividends to the public in the form of spin-off technologies. Every person whose life has been saved by an MRI, a smoke detector, or the safety grooving on our highways would most certainly be in agreement.