By David McBride
Many people joined with NASA last Monday to celebrate the successful landing of InSight Mars Lander that was launched from California earlier this year. InSight’s landing is yet another step to better understand how our solar system was formed and prepare for future exploration missions of the red planet.
NASA also just announced the award of contracts to nine companies that are eligible to provide delivery services for instruments and technology to enable working on the moon. This comes as commercial companies are literally launching a new space economy delivering supplies to astronauts on the International Space Station, preparing to launch tourists into space, and expanding scientific research in space. These are certainly exciting times for any space enthusiast.
In reality, very few of us, even at NASA, will have the opportunity to go to space. However we all benefit by NASA’s space exploration. Technology that was developed to enable the heroic Apollo and Space Shuttle Program missions is commonplace. While many may not realize it, we all benefit from NASA-developed technology on a daily basis. Some examples include water filtration technology, freeze-dried food, infrared thermometers, grooves in highways, batteries for power tools and automatic external defibrillators to name just a few. More examples can be found on an interactive web page called NASA Home and City.
As director at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, I have the unique opportunity to observe how technology used for flight research has benefited the space programs and how space technology has benefited aeronautics. Early research into hypersonic flight on the X-15 rocket aircraft helped us learn how to control a capsule in space. In place of traditional flaps and rudders, we developed what are called reaction control nozzles to produce thrust to help guide vehicles in space and are used on almost all modern spacecraft. Conversely, the Apollo guidance computer used to help safely land astronauts on the moon was later repurposed to control the first digitally controlled fly-by-wire aircraft leading to safer and more efficient large jet aircraft.
I believe the technological revolution that is about to unfold in space will have an even greater impact on all of us here on Earth. It is hard to predict what those technologies will be. It could be new health discoveries that will help our astronauts survive the extreme radiological fields in space. Perhaps it will be new energy generation or storage devices needed to power our spacecraft and landers for long durations. Maybe it will be new geological mining and processing techniques to better understand new environments much like InSight is doing right now on Mars.
There is no question America has the most innovative and advanced space program in the world. For 60 years Americans have invested in NASA and the returns are enjoyed by all of us. They reach into our homes, schools, hospitals, industry, economy and more profoundly our imaginations. I look forward to what the next generation of explorers will bring to NASA with their amazing and innovative ideas to enable a better and inspiring tomorrow.
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