The importance of Space in our daily life
Space is booming. In the next 10 years, we will witness the construction and launching of several private space stations that will host private astronauts and allow space tourism. We will also establish a permanent human presence on the moon where we’ll be able to extract subterranean iced water and turn it into oxygen and hydrogen. And just before 2030, we will greatly increase our connectivity, guidance, and observation capabilities, thanks to the 17,000 new satellites to be launched.
But this flourishment in Space is not new. Almost 60 years ago, the Russians achieved extraordinary accomplishments in only 8 years, from launching the first satellite in 1957 to the first “spacewalk” performed by cosmonaut Alexi Leonov in 1965, including sending the first man and woman into space (Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova).
Parallel to that, the Americans launched the Apollo program, which allowed Neil Armstrong to become in 1969 the first person to step on the surface of the moon, inspiring a whole generation and unleashing new technological developments that benefited life here on earth. Some of those space inventions are so well integrated into our daily routine that we might not even know they came from the space race.
Cordless vacuums, memory foam mattresses, invincible braces, infrared ear thermometers, treadmills, scratch-resistant glasses, water filters, and insulation materials are just some of those examples. However, the most memorable and impactful invention that came out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was created by Eric Fossum and Sabrina Kemeny when they were looking for efficient image sensors that can capture images during space missions and invented the miniature digital camera, an invention that influenced the XXI Century, allowing the creation of the cellphone camera and social media as we know it today, and it also revolutionized the automotive, surveillance and medical fields.
Speaking of the medical field, CATScan and MIR machines also use components, originally intended for Space missions, even enriched baby formula was discovered when NASA-funded researchers were working on developing life support for Mars missions and found the Omega-3 protein, which is a key ingredient that has been added since to more than 90 percent of baby formula on the market today.
Besides those tangible inventions, Space provides us with communication and data services thanks to the over 3,000 satellites in orbit, that help us to get accurate weather predictions for navigation and agriculture, stay connected, use our credit card and banking apps anywhere in the world, coordinate search and rescue missions in zones of disasters and track climate change, among many other applications.
One of the less known uses of spatial data is helping engineers prevent accidents by performing structural analysis of large objects from Space. By overlapping images of bridges, buildings, roads, and other large constructions, engineers can measure displacements or damages and intervene on time.
Even governments are using satellite information in new ways. In France for example, the region of Alpes-Maritimes partnered up with Google Maps to locate undeclared swimming pools from space, and collect the appropriate tax. In California, the government also uses images from satellites to identify and close illegal marijuana grow sites.
We live in a very exciting time where the moon and mars exploration will create a new wave of discoveries, being the most promising in the field of health-tech, with anti-aging serums that protect and regenerate our skin from the harsh space environment, telemedicine machines that can perform complex surgery in outer space, and bioengineering products that keep us alive for a longer time with minimum resources.
But with all this progress, we need to be very conscious of preserving our space environment and the risk of polluting our orbits with space debris and mega-constellations. Thankfully there are already some initiatives that aim to reutilize satellites to extend their life and find environmentally friendly propellants and materials.
One of those initiatives was led by the American company Northrop Grumman when last year they became the first institution in the world to successfully dock two satellites in orbit, providing a 5-year life extension to a communications satellite that was at the end of its operational life.
Another example of sustainability in the space sector comes from the Kyoto University in Japan, as they announced that in 2023 they will be launching the first satellite made partially of wood, which will become the most environmentally friendly satellite that will burn upon re-entry into earth’s atmosphere after the end of its life, leaving little to no environmental trace.
Exploration is in our DNA, it has not only been our survival skill but also the way we acquire knowledge. Our ancestors started exploring the earth 100,000 years ago and we should look forward to the benefits of exploring outer space in the upcoming years.