In the late 1960’s I was, like most Americans, very excited about the Apollo Moon Landing and very impressed with NASA as an organization. Patriotic, oh yes!! We beat the Russians to the Moon!!!! I was disappointed when the Moon Landings were cancelled after Apollo 17 at the end of 1972. I had, in my little 14-year-old head, wanted very much to go to the moon. At the time, I did not know the Space Program had recently saved my father’s life.
NASA, and America’s Space program was, of course, established to 1. Keep up with the Russians, and 2. Make sure we had at least the same number of rockets to lob nuclear warheads at them as they could lob at us. If we could put satellites in orbit to kill them, so much the better.
However, after the Space Race had been won people started saying, why are we spending all this money on space when people are poor down here. It wasn’t until I was in college eight years later that I learned that 400,000 people had been employed by NASA or its contractors in the late 60’s working on Apollo. 400,000 people!!!! That was a pretty good anti-poverty program.
In 1980 I was fortunate enough to get hired for a Co-op job at NASA in Washington, DC working on the Shuttle Program. Yes, I was a bureaucrat. Hated the job (very repetitive) but wanted to, and did learn about the program and loved it. I got to meet many future Shuttle astronauts as they came to meetings in DC, worked out in the gym with Deke Slayton, one of the Original 7 Mercury astronauts (that was a thrill). Afterward, I cheered at the launch of successful flight after successful flight. I cried at the explosion of Challenger. Walked out of a meeting at work, without explanation, to watch on a little TV, when the Discovery lifted off 2 ½ years later, and returned to the meeting as soon as the boosters separated. The mission was commanded by Fred (Rick) Hauck of Burlington, MA who I had known.
Why am I writing all this? Because Manned-Space flight and NASA have been inventors and innovators of HUNDREDS of things that help people, regular people, every day and most of us don’t know it. NASA is not good at blowing its own horn. Here are a few.
- The Golden Gate Bridge and Statue of Liberty are coated with a material invented by NASA to protect metals against salt-laden air.
- A food testing process to prevent Astronauts from getting food poisoning was adopted by the FDA and salmonella cases were cut in half in 5 years.
- The DeBakey Heart Pump is based on the same technology as the Space Shuttle Main Engines
- Fire Fighters around the world use a light-weight portable breathing device invented and used by NASA, for use by astronauts
- There are many metal alloys, heating and cooling materials, that are light and strong that were developed for the Shuttle.
- High-sensitivity, high-tech, fire/smoke detection equipment that was invented for the Shuttle, are being used in buildings world-wide.
- Reflective film for windows, that you see on buildings every day that keep temperatures cooler in summer and warmer in winter was invented for the windows of the Shuttle. (It was tested on the building I worked in at NASA in 1980. I had to take temperature readings a couple of times a day, so I feel I was a big part of it. OK, maybe not such a big part)
- Jet liners that carry millions of people per year use lots of NASA innovations.
- The Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionized what man knows about astronomy and the universe.
- I could go on indefinitely. There are really hundreds, maybe thousands of examples.
The problem I have with the end of the Manned Space Program as we have known it for the last 5 decades is that this research that has helped millions, will probably come to an end too. Without Government sponsorship, or the prospect of selling to the Government, or a reason for doing R & D on something for a purpose, like keeping people safe in space, there will be less of an appetite for companies to spend their own money on R & D that will push the envelope of technology.
Russia will be the only option for getting people and material to the International Space Station. The price charged by the Russians for this service had doubled in the past year. They have now heard of Supply and demand economics.
Allegedly, America will start a new Manned Space program in 2016 or so but I am not holding my breath. Congress can’t even pass a budget never-mind establish new programs like this that actually develop technology. Most in Congress probably don’t know of the benefits provided by manned space flight that I have just written about. The US Government will not have the urge to spend new Billions when they are in debt by Trillions. I hope there are some smart, people with vision in power in congress by then, not petty politicians who are only worried about their own pork and petty politics.
- Earlier I mentioned a NASA invention that had saved my father’s life. In August 1972 he inhaled a sealant chemical that damaged his lungs. He was hospitalized, and his temperature spiked up to 106 degrees. At that level, for any extended time he would surely die. The doctor (Dr. Malcolm, a name will never forget) called hospitals in Boston, NY, and around the country looking for advice. He somehow was put in contact with someone who knew of the recent availability of the water cooled garments used by Apollo astronauts to keep them cool on the moon where the temps go up to 250 degrees. One of these devices was sent overnight (pre Federal Express) to South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, MA and they wrapped my Dad in it. For a number of days, while Dr. Malcolm and his colleagues worked to un-do the damage done to his lungs, the “blanket” of forced cold water kept my father’s temp in normal range. He recovered and came home after 6+ weeks in the hospital. He referred to the “ice blankets” as the worst experience of his life, even worse than being in combat in WWII. I look at it that if it were not for that device developed for NASA my father would have died when I was 14, 19 years early.
Thank you NASA.