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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 race.

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 space.

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 unmanageable.

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 advantages.

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 Pole.

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 dioxide.

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.

   
  Questions
   
  1.   What do you understand by he term 'spin-off factor' ?
       
  2. (a) How did the transistor aid the speed of development of the space program ?
       
    (b) For what reasons were so many firms attracted to the Apollo moon program ?
       
  3. (a) Explain the meanings of the following words as they are used in the passage.
      exclusively; impetus; rebut; innovation; commissioned; enhancement
       
    (b) Write six short sentences, using each of the words to illustrate its meaning. Your sentences should not deal with the subject matter of the passage.
       
  4.   In about 100 words, show how the public has benefited from space technology.
       
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  Answers
       
  1.   The consequences in practical and technological terms of the research which made moon travel possible.
       
  2. (a) Invented in the USA in 1948, the transistor was miniaturized in 1952 by a British scientist who invented the micro-circuit. The need for light-weight equipment in a space rocket accelerated this development.
       
    (b) Firstly, the space program provided new contracts for the foreseeable future, which were obviously lucrative. Secondly, the firms were glad to accept the challenges involved in innovative technologies, which could be adapted to new consumer goods. Both the firms' profits and the advantages to customers have proved impossible to quantify.
       
  3. (a)

exclusively - from the space effort alone and not from other areas of research.

impetus - the driving force, or motivation.

rebut - to refute, or contradict by argument.

innovation - a new development.

commissioned - to commission, in this context, is to impose a duty on an organization or person, or to contract with a company to produce certain results.

enhancement - improvement. Here, it means enlarging, focusing and generally clarifying photographs taken from space.

       
    (b)

Living on a desert island I would have to dine exclusively on fish.

Regular payment provides the writer with the impetus to do more work.

My arguments will rebut all your allegations.

The CD was an innovation which rendered the disc obsolete.

I commissioned a new suit from my tailor.

The portrait is an unreal enhancement of the lady's beauty.

       
  4.

Both directly and indirectly, the public has benefited from the research and development associated with the space program.

In the domestic sphere the micro-circuit has made possible many innovations, including the modern radio and television set. The satellite-beamed weather forecast is a daily common place.

The new technology has been widely applied in industry, improving existing processes and making new ones possible such as telecommunications.

It ha also helped farmers to recognize incipient disease in, or insect attacks on crops. Water, oil and mineral deposits can also be located by satellite.

The 'greenhouse effect' was also identified from space. ( 100 words )

           
 
 
 
 
 

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