Valuable By-Products of Space Research

Research that went into developing the highly specialized technology for space travel has resulted in many unexpected practical applications back on Earth. Out of the engineering that produced rocket motors, liquid propellants, spacesuits, and other necessities of space flight came by-products that no one had anticipated. Equipment and procedures designed for astronauts and space flights have been successfully adapted for use in medicine, industry and the home. These valuable by-products of space research, called spin-offs, have improved the quality of life on Earth in many ways.

Some of the best-known examples of spin-offs from space research are found in hospitals and doctors’ offices. One such example is the sight switch, which was originally developed to allow astronauts to control their spacecraft without using their hands. The sight switch is now used by disabled people to operate devices using eye movements. Another spin-off is the voice command device, which was designed to enable astronauts to steer their spacecraft by voice command. This device is now being used to help deaf people learn to speak.

Doctors have also benefited from the technology required to make miniature electronic instruments small enough and durable enough for trips into space. From this technology have come hearing aids the size of a small pill and tiny television cameras small enough to be attached to surgeon’s head to give medical students a close-up view of an operation. Dentists and their patients have benefited, too. Invisible braces for straightening teeth evolved from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) research for strong and durable materials for spacecraft.

Biotelemetry, which was developed to monitor the physical signs of astronauts by checking their temperature, brain-wave activity, breathing rate, and heartbeat, offers doctors a new means of monitoring hospital patients. Biosensors attached to the body send data by wire or radio. This information is displayed on computer screens for doctors to analyze.

Aerospace scientists in England developed a special bed for astronauts that is now used for burn patients. It enables them to float on a cushion of air. Burns can heal more quickly because they do not rub against the bed.

Another valuable spin-off came from a special stretcher developed to remove injured workers from the huge propellant tanks of the Saturn V rocket. The stretcher is now widely employed to remove injured workers from mines, oil-drilling rigs, and boats. The rigid aluminum device permits someone to be moved through an opening 18 inches in diameter. And much of the portable medical equipment carried on ambulances has its roots in NASA’s need for small, portable equipment in space.

Many items developed in space research are now being used in homes, factories and offices. For example, smoke detectors used in homes evolved from technology originally developed for NASA’s first space station, Skylab. Cordless tools were first used by Apollo astronauts to drill into the moon’s surface and collect soil and rock samples to bring back to Earth. Today, cordless screwdrivers, drills, and vacuum cleaners are popular in many homes around the world. Fiberglass materials created for rocket-fuel tanks are used to make very strong and durable storage tanks, railway tank cars, and highway tankers. A magnetic hammer that originally served to eliminate small imperfections in the Saturn V rocket is being adapted for use in the automotive and shipbuilding industries.

The experience gained from developing NASA spacesuits has been applied to the process of designing clothing for other uses. Firefighters now wear lighter, less bulky clothing made of special "fireblocking" materials that are more resistant to cracking and burning. The spacers used for ventilation and cushioning in moon boots were adapted for use in athletic shoes that are designed to reduce fatigue and injury. Thermal gloves and boots that keep you warm in the winter were also adapted from space technology. These thermal gloves and boots have tiny heating elements that operate on rechargeable batteries.

They were used to keep astronauts warm on Apollo missions to the moon.

Even watches and clocks have improved because of technologies originally designed for use in spacecraft. The quartz timing crystals used in many watches and small clocks were first developed for NASA as a highly accurate, lightweight, and durable timing device for the Apollo spacecraft. The bar codes that are now used by stores and manufacturers to keep track of sales and stock were originally developed for NASA as a way to keep track of millions of spacecraft parts.

One of the most valuable contributions of aerospace technology to industry is a management technique called the systems approach. With the aid of computers, this technique brings together all the elements of a complex project, including people, money, and materials, to assure that everything is completed at the optimum time. It has been applied to a variety of situations unrelated to space exploration. Among them are cancer research, hospital design, city planning, crime detection, pollution control, building construction, and transportation.

These are but a few of the more than 30,000 practical applications of space technology that provide daily benefits here on Earth. These spin-offs can be found in hospitals, offices, schools, and homes around the world. So, the next time you look at your watch, put on your sneakers, or check your smoke detector, think about how much safer and more convenient your life is because of the technology that was designed for astronauts and space flights.


Ex.1 Circle the correct answer

1. The article mainly discusses __________.

a. devices that enable astronauts to control their spacecraft

b. the value of the systems approach

c. practical applications of space research

d. ways of monitoring patients

2. The authors mention applications in all of the following areas except__________.

a. medicine

b. industry

c. the home

d. the law

3. The authors use tiny hearing aids and television cameras as examples of __________.

a. spin-offs in the fields of clothing design

b. applications of space research in medicine

c. inventions by aerospace scientists in England

d. devices used to enhance the benefits of the systems approach

4. The word them in paragraph 5 refers to __________.

a. aerospace scientists

b. astronauts

c. burn patients

d. doctors

5. Which is an example of a practical application resulting from research that went into developing spacesuits?

a. storage tanks

b. firefighters’ clothing

c. cordless tools

d. invisible braces

6. Where in the article do the authors mention ways to monitor a patient?

a. paragraph 2

b. paragraph 4

c. paragraph 6

d. paragraph 8

7. With what topic is paragraph 10 mainly concerned?

a. the importance of importance of management techniques

b. the complexity of hospital design

c. use of computers in industry

d. applications of the systems approach

8. Bar codes were first developed __________.

a. as a way to record patients’ temperatures

b. to keep track of sales and stock

c. to keep track of millions of spacecraft parts

d. as timing devices for the Apollo spacecraft

Ex. 2 Choose five other spin-offs from the article that you think are valuable. List them in the first column of the chart and complete the other columns with information from the article. Use the information you underlined to help you. Then compare answers with a partner.

Device/Procedure Space Use/Description Practical Application
Sight switch lets astronauts control their spacecraft without using their hands permits handicapped people to operate devices using only eye movements


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