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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ten Ways NASA Has Fundamentally Changed the World

...for the better.

A lot of folks have been talking about cutting NASA's funding as of late. The more I read about it, the more I realize that the reason isn't because NASA hasn't actually produced anything of value since the moon landings, it's because people are generally led to believe that NASA just sends people to space and does all those complicated, uninteresting science-y things that don't really matter (except they do). The reality is that you, someone you know, industries you buy from, etc. have been fundamentally changed by NASA research. NASA isn't just a space agency; it's a research organization that happens to specialize in space, but what it does on a daily basis has ultimately made our lives better in some way or another. With that in mind I decided to make a short list of crucial advancements in technology or other areas that have spawned due to NASA's consistent dedication to science:
  1. Cordless tools
    You know, power tools run by batteries. Drills of all kinds and other nifty battery-powered gizmos that come in handy in the real world. You may never use them personally, but the person who built your house probably did, or your mechanic does. Heck, it really doesn't matter if you or someone you know has ever used one, because without cordless tools, well, things would sort of suck. Imagine having to drill screws into giant logs on your own. That would suck.
  2. Medical Technology
    I've seen the benefits of this first hand. CAT scanners were developed following an industrial version that used to find abnormalities in rockets and the like. Now we use it on people instead of big metal things. Oh, and that's not all. Dialysis machines exist thanks to NASA as well as cardiovascular conditioners, MRIs, invisible braces, safer breast imaging (for cancer and such), ear thermometers (which I particularly like over the alternative), and a vast array of surgical and other medical improvements that would probably cause my blog to explode if I listed them all. The put it simply: if you've gone to the doctor at some point since 1970, you've likely seen the benefits of NASA first hand.
  3. Athletic Shoes/Shoe Soles
    That part inside of your new pair of shoes that's designed to make walking better for you than walking on rocks? You can thank NASA for that. Specifically, you can thank the Apollo missions, since their lovely space suits contributed to the development of better shoes. Go figure.
  4. Water Purification Technology
    Brita filters, filtered water of any kind, etc. All because of NASA. Okay, so somebody might have figured it out anyway, but NASA helped in the process. And now we have an entire industry that basically owes NASA a big thank you check. You hear that Aquafina and Dasani? Send some money to NASA!
  5. Satellite Television
    This is an easy one, right? After all, without NASA we wouldn't have satellites or ways of getting such things into space. But NASA does more than simply provide the technology to get these things up there. NASA has helped develop ways to improve reception and make satellite television better. So, when you're watching Dish Network or DirectTV or whatever satellite company you have, remember that NASA helped make that possible.
  6. Fire Fighting Equipment
    The material used to make fire resistant suits for fire fighters was developed for space suits. Granted, if any of the Apollo vehicles exploded it wouldn't have matter much, but I suppose they had their reasons.
  7. Sun Glasses
    Astronauts do a lot of crap up in space, including welding and dealing with that bright yellow ball of gas floating up there. It's only logical that they would create a way to keep all those harmful bright lights out of their eyes, right? And now we have them here on Earth too!
  8. Plastic
    NASA had its hand in this industry. Since things need to be light and durable in space, NASA needed to develop new materials that could be used for a variety of things. In the process, similar processes and materials have been used down here on Earth for things like food packaging. So, next time you drink a bottle of Coke or Pepsi, remember that NASA helped make that happen.
  9. Scratch-resistant Lenses
    You might say to me, "Well, maybe you should take better care of your glasses, Mister," and I would have to agree. But for those of us that don't take such great care of our ocular devices, scratch-resistant lenses are a godsend. Granted, I don't wear my glasses much, and they do have some small scratches from when I dropped them and kicked them across the floor and then left them there because I didn't know I'd dropped them and kicked them across the floor, but still...they're mostly still in good shape.
  10. More Efficient Cars/Hybrids/Electric
    NASA didn't invent these cars, but NASA funding and researchers/engineers have helped develop cars that run on lithium batteries, cars that get better gas mileage and release few emissions, etc. In fact, NASA has aided all sorts of transportation industries from cars to boats to airplanes. Pretty impressive for some silly organization that puts monkeys in space, huh?
And that's all. NASA has invented or had a hand in the invention of over 1,300 pieces of technology, most of which you probably didn't even realize NASA was responsible in some capacity for. So the next time you sit down to use a cordless tool or watch satellite television or get a CAT scan, remember that without NASA we would be decades behind on this stuff. Without NASA the world would be a far different place, a scary place. If you want to find out more about NASA inventions, you can check out the Spinoff Database or Google search.

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  1. Absolutely! A marvelous agency.

  2. Agreed, it is a marvelous agency!

  3. Anonymous7:59 AM

    You know, I use precisely one of the things on that list.

    Cordless tools ... use a cord, or a normal screwdriver, geez. Wimps.

    Medical tech, I don't use personally. I don't believe Nasa invented dialysis, I'm sure there were precursors to that which would have got us to the same thing without NASA. CAT scanners I have to thank NASA for. *hugs you* Ear thermometers? What's wrong with a digital thermometer? It's less painful than haing someone ram something in your ear that they haven't bothered to wipe between you and the last person. Invisible braces ... get a grip, there's nowt wrong with a few wires showing for a few months. I don't even know what a cardiovascular conditioner is ...

    So yeah, I haven't used any of their tech myself (hope I never have to).

    Shoes, again, get a grip. I've had rubber soles my entire life and somehow I survive. *le gasp*

    Water purification? Brita filters are awful. The only kind of filter that works is an osmosis thingy and that's not really a filter. Dasani is also a rip off. In fact, NASA should be fined for inventing it ... Here in the UK we use water from springs, not filtered tap water.

    Satellite TV I don't care about either. There's too much tv anyway.

    Fire fighting equipment is awesome, though like medical stuff I've never had cause for it myself.

    Sunglasses I'm sure we can all live without. Humanity survived for many years without them oddly enough. Hardly a reason to keep NASA funding.

    Plastic ... depends what kind of plastic. This is the one I most likely actually use.

    Scratch-resistant lenses? Come on, we can survive without those. I doubt that's changed anyone's life.

    Cars. Hmm. Someone would have worked that stuff out, I think.

    In conclusion, I don't care about any of that stuff except fire fighting and medical equipment, and I think the medical stuff would have been worked out (though it would have taken time and that's never good with medicine). NASA worked these things out because they had a huge bugdet and the incentive to find things that protected from the sun and heat etc, but with the really important things that funding would be just as well spent on another agency dedicated to inventing things we really need.

    I talk too much ...

  4. It stands to reason that the majority of the things you claim we might have come up with without NASA would probably have taken us decades longer. You can sit there and try to claim that all you want, but the fact of the matter is that NASA has changed the world we live in.

    Not to mention, NASA doesn't just do space stuff. They do a lot of research right here on Earth and they actually work with other agencies by funding research projects for small companies, etc. NASA doesn't just come up with these things as a result of space travel. They have a hand in research all over the place, in all fields. NASA is probably one of, it not THE, most important organizations out there.

  5. As for NASA, they are a corporation that has it all together. They continue to enhance quality of life for us & the earth. NASA has always intrigued me; hence my PRO belief in their entity. I have a medical device (insulin pump) that I use everyday which has tremendously increased my life. NASA research trickles down to so many things as they have gathered some of the greatest minds out there. They increase productivity and utilization to help our world grow :) Much agreed with your statements ...

  6. Anonymous11:55 AM

    So put those smart people into a different organisation so the public don't think it's all about space. Yeesh ...

    I'm sure no one would want to cut MEDICAL funding, but when it's given to a 'space' company, people object.

  7. Or the media or the public in general can just educate themselves.