Spin-Offs From Space
Moon travel ended after the sixth mission in 1972 with many of
the scientists' questions as to origin of the Moon still unanswered. But
the spin-off factor has given us a range of technical equipment and
domestic gadgetry we now take for granted.
Even though many of the items cannot be said to have resulted
exclusively from the space effort, they owe their development to the
urgent thrust of technology and finance which accelerated the space
Many industries have been able to absorb space-related
technology: electronics, telecommunications, synthetic materials,
energy, food processing, health care.
A fine example of the speed of development that came with
space is the transistor. The first transistor was developed in the United
States in 1948. Four years later a British scientist put forward the
concept of the present-day micro-circuit. It was the demands of the
space program to reduce the weight of equipment that provided the
catalyst to convert those ideas into industrial innovation.
To demonstrate this point, a technician walked alongside a bank
of computers 100 paces long. At the end of the row, he picked up a
portable computer the size of a small radio : all the capability of the
entire row had now been miniaturized into this small box. The impetus
to achieve this startling gain had been the need to save weight in
About 20,000 firms worldwide were involved in the Apollo Moon program, yet the advantages it brought them and their customers
are largely anecdotal. No one has succeeded in identifying what they
learnt and earned.
By the time the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) had commissioned the Chase Econometric Company to trace
where the dollars spent on Apollo had brought reward, in order to rebut
critics of the spending on the Shuttle program, the task was
It was after the Apollo program ended that NASA began
emphasizing the practical applications rather than the prestige and
adventure of space exploration. They identified some distinct
The computer enhancement of photographs taken from the
space can now be applied to identify crops for the early warning of disease or insects, for indicating mineral and oil deposits and locating
underground water resources beneath arid lands.
More recently, instruments in space have confirmed the global
extent of the threat to the ozone layer that was first revealed by the
discovery of a seasonal 'hole' in the upper atmosphere over the South
Aiding necessary research into the climatic threat from the
greenhouse effect, space-produced photographs show that air pollution
is being exported from the industrial belts in the middle latitudes to
produce a devastating haze over the Arctic.
In fact, the understanding of the greenhouse effect did not come
from the exploration of Earth. It came from the study of Venus by
interplanetary space probes. The surface temperature of that planet,
470 °C, is higher than that of any other planet, and is the result of a
'runaway' greenhouse effect involving an atmosphere 98% carbon
The type of space technology that provides daily television
pictures of the world's weather systems from meteorological satellites
is the clearest example of space technology being taken for granted.
Many people wrongly believe that rocket development gave us Teflon,
the coating of the non-stick frying pan. This, however, was a product
patented by an American company as long ago as 1938.