The superlative achievement of the European Space Agency to land the Philae satellite onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is one that rightly deserves to top the headlines around the world. After a 10 year, 4 billion mile journey, one commentator on Radio 4 likened it to throwing a hammer in Britain and hitting a nail in India.
It is difficult to overstate the triumph of design and engineering this represents and puts it alongside other great space achievements as Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong and the Curiosity Rover on Mars.
However, many people will think this is all very clever but how does it affect me? Apart from the science of understanding if Comets were the seed that helped start life on Earth, we thought we would take a quick look at ten everyday things that have come from space exploration.
1. Invisible Braces. Getting your teeth straightened used to mean enduring a mouth full of metal but in 1987 Invisible Braces hit the market, by using a material called translucent polycrystalline alumina (TPA). TPA was developed by Ceradyne and NASA Advanced Ceramics to protect the infrared antenna of heat seeking missile trackers.
Another company, Unitek, discovered TPA would be strong enough to withstand use and with its translucent properties created invisible braces, one of the most popular products in the orthodontic industry.
2. Scratch Resistant Lenses. Because of dirt and particles found in space environments, NASA needed a special coating to protect space equipment, particularly astronaut helmet visors.
Taking the opportunity, Foster-Grant sunglasses licensed the technology for its products. The special plastics coating made its sunglasses 10 times more scratch-resistant than uncoated plastics.
3. Memory Foam. Temper foam found in many mattresses was originally developed for space flight and later repackaged for the home.
The open cell polyurethane-silicon plastic was created for use in NASA aircraft seats to lessen impact during landings. The plastic has a unique property that allows it to evenly distribute the weight and pressure on top of it, which provides shock absorbency. Even after being compressed to 10 percent of its size, the memory foam will return to its original shape. Some private and commercial planes now feature the foam in seats as well, along with padding for motorcycle seats, custom body moulds for dressmaking and protection for racing car drivers.
4. Ear Thermometer. By taking advantage of NASA’s previous advancements in measuring the temperature of stars with infrared technology, Diatek invented an infrared sensor that serves as a thermometer.
Aural thermometers with these infrared sensors take your temperature by measuring the amount of energy your eardrum gives off into the ear canal. Since the eardrum is inside our bodies, it acts as an accurate sensor for the energy, or heat, inside of our bodies that increases when we get sick. Hospitals can perform a temperature reading in less than two seconds.
5. Shoe Insoles. The space suit designed for the Apollo missions included specially-made boots that put a spring in astronaut's steps while providing ventilation. Training shoe companies have taken this technology and adopted it to construct better shoes that lessen the impact on your feet and legs.
Shoe Company KangaROOS USA applied the principles and materials in moon boots to a new line of sports shoes. With help from NASA, KangaROOS patented a Dynacoil three-dimensional polyurethane foam fabric that distributes the force on your feet that happens when you walk or run. By coiling the fibers within the fabric, the KangaROOS absorb the energy from your foot hitting the ground, sending it back to your feet.
6. Long distance Telecommunications. Before humans were sent into space, NASA built satellites that could communicate with people on the ground about what outer space was like. Using similar satellite technology, around 200 communication satellites orbit the globe each day.
These satellites send and receive messages that allow us to call Hong Kong when we're in Hastings. NASA monitors the locations and health of many of these satellites to ensure that we can continue to talk to people around the corner or overseas.
7. Adjustable Smoke Detector. SkyLab, the first American space station needed to be able to alert the astronauts if a fire had broken out. Teaming up with Honeywell, NASA invented the first adjustable smoke detector with different sensitivity levels to prevent false alarms.
The first model to come to market was an ionization smoke detector, which essentially means that it uses a radioactive element called americium-241 to spot smoke or harmful gasses. When clean air particles of oxygen and nitrogen move through smoke detectors, the americium-241 ionizes them, which creates an electrical current. If foreign smoke particles enter the smoke detector, it disrupts that interaction, triggering the alarm
8. Water Filters. Astronauts needed a way to cleanse water they take up into space, since bacteria and sickness would be highly problematic. Water filter technology had existed since the early 1950s, but NASA wanted to know how to clean water in more extreme situations and keep it clean for longer periods of time.
Charcoal is specially activated and contains silver ions that neutralize pathogens in the water. Along with killing bacteria in the water, the filters also prevent further bacterial growth. Companies have borrowed from this technology to bring us the water filter systems millions of people use at home every day.
9. Cordless Tools. In the mid-1960s, to prepare for the Apollo missions to the moon, NASA needed a tool that astronauts could use to obtain samples of rocks and soil. The drill had to be lightweight, compact and powerful enough to dig deep into the surface of the moon.
NASA and Black & Decker invented a battery-powered, magnet-motor drill for working in the context of a limited space environment, for which Black & Decker developed a computer program for the tool that reduced the amount of power expended during use to maximize battery life.
This NASA-related research helped refine the technology that led to lightweight, cordless medical instruments, hand-held vacuum cleaners and other tools.
10. Safety Grooves. These were first experimented with at NASA's Langley Research Centre in the 1960s as a way to improve safety for aircraft taking off on wet runways.
This simple, yet lifesaving, process inserts long, shallow channels into pavement on runways and roads. These indentions in the concrete divert excess water from the surface to reduce the amount of water between tyres and the runway or road. This increases the friction between wheels and concrete, improving vehicle safety.
These are just a few of the spin-offs from the space programmes, which have become part of our everyday lives.
Images attributed to: Associated Press, Dorling Kindersley, Getty Images, Dirk Anschutz and flashfilm.
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