NASA Space Tech Changes Life on Earth for the Better
In Gale Crater on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover, is examining the rock and soil before it begins a long trek up Mt. Sharp in search of evidence the now cold dry planet was once warm and wet enough to host some form of life.
In U.S. hospitals, QC Bot, a product of Vecna Technologies, is starting to roll down the hallways, gathering vital signs from patients, dispensing medicines, even gathering trash.
It turns out the two machines are closely related and just one example of how space exploration and the advances in technology that make it possible provide many benefits to life on Earth.
NASA tells the full story in Spinoff 2012, the latest edition of an annual publication from the Office of Chief Technologist that is filled with many examples. But in brief, Spinoff 2012 reports that since 2000 advances in space technology, often made in collaboration with the private sector, have helped to save 444,000 lives and produced 14,000 new jobs. These strides have generated $5 billion in new revenues for the U. S.economy and helped to reduce costs across a wide range of activities by an estimated $6.2 billion.
The remarkable start to Curiosity’s two- year mission on Mars began with a dramatic landing in early August 2012. Curiosity is the latest in a long line of NASA spacecraft that have landed on the Martian terrain. The twin stationary Viking Landers led the way, settling onto the rocky surface of Mars in 1976. NASA’s Pathfinder/Sojourner and the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity followed, introducing mobility to their missions.
That transition required some significant research on Earth, much of it conducted at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mojave Desert and the Massachusetts of Technology. A Curiosity prototype that began to take shape in the mid-1990s, Rocky 7, became an inspiration for QC Bot, as engineers devised the mechanisms and software to create a camera mast and robot arm for Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.
“Like the Mars rover, it must be able to operate robustly in a complex unstructured environment away from the engineers who designed and built it,” Daniel Theobald, a one time graduate student who worked on the project at JPL, told NASA Spinoff 2012 of QC Bot. His work led to a job with Vecna Technologies and the emergence of QC Bot.
Many expect that humans will one day join robots on Mars.
There are challenges, though, including increased radiation exposures that astronauts must deal with. Diet and nutrition have emerged as an important part of keeping astronauts heart healthy and resistant to skin cancer, cataracts and other vision ailments. On Earth, a healthy diet includes a recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, which is a challenge to match in space.
“In the harsh conditions of space, many miles from medical assistance, proper nutrition takes on added importance,” reports NASA Spinoff 2012.
In 2004, NASA’s Johnson Space Center began to work with AmeriSciences LP, ofHouston, to develop vitamin and nutritional supplements to deal with the oxidative stresses linked to space radiation. The collaboration was expanded to include the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Radiation Oncology and a study involving four groups of mice, some given supplements developed by AmeriSciences. The results, published June 2011 in the Radiation Research journal, provided a link between the supplements and healthier mice who lived longer.
Dr. Jeffrey Jones, a Baylor College of Medicine professor and former NASA flight director, called the findings “ground breaking.” “There is no existing combination of countermeasures like it,” said Jones.
Astronauts living on the International Space Station in 2009 included the supplements in their diet. AmeriScience now offers them to consumers in products like AS10 and MM6 multivitamins.
Experts believe those kinds of supplements are especially beneficial to nuclear plant workers, those in the military, construction workers, health care professionals, even frequent fliers.