Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Bigger Picture

We've done Q&A in bulk, and tend to zero in on questions asked multiple times -- but I singled out this particular question for a dedicated post, because I think it's an important point to make.

Loki asks: And you say that staying in bed improves our poor lifes?

Yes. While this particular study is most directly applicable to how micro-gravity affects the human body in order to create counter-measures, this research may also shed light on how to better care for pregnant women whose babies lives depend on bed rest, or people with injuries which leave them no choice but to remain immobile for long periods.

In a broader sense, the benefits from technology invented for space missions affect millions of people on Earth every day -- your "poor life" included. Did you know modern fire-fighters wear suits made of fire resistant fabric invented for use in space suits? Did you know the helmet padding that protects the heads of all your favorite NFL football players was developed by NASA for aircraft seats? Did you know you wouldn't have a cellular telephone if it wasn't for NASA? They didn’t invent the gizmo itself, but they created the process that makes it work!

Frankly, I'd be twelve shades of tickled to chuck my cell phone into a swamp, it drives me batty... but here are a few other things we wouldn't have if it wasn't for NASA being only 5 years short of its AARP card:

- Radiation Detectors

- Virtual Reality Simulators
- Cordless Vacuums
- Heart Pump Implants

- Invisible braces
- Memory Foam (now known as Temper Foam)
- Micro-Lasers
- Solar Cells
- Joystick Controllers
- Fire-fighting Equipment

- Lightning Protection Systems
- Crop-Dusting Accuracy Systems
- Oil-Spill Cleanup Techniques 

- Aircraft De-Icing Techniques 
- Satellite Television (actually enabled everything that requires satellites!)

I could go on for days, and in fact there are entire websites devoted to this subject. Hey, turns out getting on a soapbox is the only easy thing to do tilted at -6 degrees! Browse those pages, decide for yourself, and ponder or argue as you please... but I'm just one of those people who thinks the facts are plain.

Technologies developed from NASA labs continue to have significant impact, from finding water on Mars to better aerodynamic designs in children’s toys... and sometimes I am floored when I hear people talk about NASA in a negative way, as if the space program should be shut down to address other socio-economic issues of our world. The big picture is often the other way around: a great many of our crucial issues have been and still are solved by NASA... many in tandem with other technology companies, or even as happy accidents in the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”

Buzz Aldrin recently said "fantastical" science fiction has led to a declining interest in promoting the real space program, and he has a point. Nc one wants to stifle creativity, because certainly fictional shows and movies have also led to many new inventions and cultural ideas... but there is something to be said for inspiring young people to learn of and be excited about the REALITY of space travel as we know it, and all its accompanying (or resulting) technologies.

Is it always perfect? Have they done everything right? Of course not; no entity does, and scientific discovery is rarely the result of the shortest or easiest path. Nonetheless, NASA has consistently led the way to truly remarkable advances and miraculous voyages, because their focus exemplifies one of the greatest human characteristics: our desire for examination and EXPLORATION. We are the only animal who looks beyond ourselves, to see what the universe is made of and how we fit into it, how we came to be.

Whether one puts their faith in a divine entity or their energy into science, at its core this grand search transcends both of these spheres -- and defines our essence, our deepest nature. Beyond technology. Beyond the mechanics of "everyday life." Beyond how we interpret facts or faith.

Dinosaurs didn't track orbits. Ever seen a giraffe gaze up at the stars and organize them into patterns? Chimps never argue whether Pluto IS or ISN'T a "planet" for the sake of accurate categorization.

Humans alone, from the most ancient civilizations to the present, looked upward to ask, what is out there? What does it mean to us?

Humans alone look upward to ask, WHY?


Sound Man "G" said...

Having lived in FL for nearly 20 years of my life, from about 1979 to 1997. I have seen a great deal of the space program, as well as the vast majority of launches of the different rockets and Shuttles. My dad worked at Cape Canaveral thru an agency where he had to work nearly any and sometimes all launches.

I for one, am totally behind NASA and what they are doing to better our lives, whether it be here on earth, or up in space.

ThatTallGuy said...

Just so's you know, there are tons of us who agree with you and who understand (to a small degree) what spinoffs space travel has provided.

You might also have mentioned:
Remote medical monitoring
Environmental and weather modelling
Better, faster, smaller computers

Every aspect of modern life has been touched by space spinoffs. Pretty good return on our money, I'd say.

SKHI said...

HEAR! HEAR! WELL SAID!! Keep up the great work (And I will resist the urge to make a six-degrees of Kevin Bacon joke here!! :-D )

aardmark said...

Well said there "pillownaut"- Im impressed with your involvement in the program and taking up this opportunity. Im looking forward to reading more posts. Keep it up!

Mike said...

I think we can both help reduce poverty and continue the scientific exploration that agencies like NASA perform every day. Unfortunately, we just haven't made fighting poverty much of a priority. Sad.

Sarah Jones said...

Very impressive post, Heather! I'm really enjoying your site! Keep up the great work!!

Thursday's Child said...

Interesting facts. I'm learning something new everyday, reading your blog. :D

Clara Dee said...

I've been following your blog since it was on fox news and just wanted to say I think what you are doing is absolutely wonderful. It takes a strong person to step up and help out like this. I have to say I'm a tad bit jealous, I would love to be there joining in! But with my children my priorities have to be set at home.

I'm checking out your blog every chance I get to see if you've updated yet! I would love to see more of what you all are going through day by day, your feelings, and any changes you've felt each day...etc...

Keep up the good work and hang in there. And thanks for this blog...I'm going to live this experience through you! :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for you comments. I was put on bedrest for three pregnancies. The first time for 3 months, the second time for 4 months and the third time for about 2 months. It was not fun, though I was able to get up from time to time. For assorted Dr. appts! To this day I can't sleep on my left side (I was supposed to stay on my left side as much as possible..BP is better for moms) I was not allowed to lay on my back at all. Not fun. Here's hoping all you are doing will help people like me!

Anonymous said...

"Chimps never argue whether Pluto IS or ISN'T a "planet" for the sake of accurate categorization."


/scratches head, reaches for banana

There's definitely a joke, or at least some redundancy lurking in that quote. :-)

NotSoccer Mom said...

excellent post. i'm sure we can all agree that more should be done to help fight poverty, homelessness, etc.--but we never know where that help will come from! it's sad to hear the state of the economy these days and how it costs billions just to retrofit a bridge or something. where is the money going to come from for science and research?

Mrs. L said...

Well said. Sometimes one has to look at the big picture to find the small things.

barbie2be said...

see, posts like this one are part of the reason i am so proud to say that you are my friend. you didn't sign up for this study so that you could lie around in bed for 3 months or because of the money. you did it because you are an intelligent person that thought the research was important.

i hadn't even thought of how the bed rest information could be useful for other things like the ones you mentioned. but dang. think of how it could benefit human's lives.

keep on, keeping on!

Vex said...

That was incredibly awesome and insightful writing.... I was blown away! O7