Space programmes have not only been a source of human pride, they have countless direct and dramatic bearings on human life as well. Space-related researches have provided new insights in medicine, communication, management techniques and alternative ways of providing energy. Examples abound; ordinary pacemaker batteries used to require surgical replacement every two years. But a United States space programme has developed a pacemaker equipped with tiny cadmium batteries for a patient with irregular heart beats. Batteries used in such pacemakers are rechargeable through the user’s skin and last for 15 to 20 years.
Instruments designed to measure air pressure on small flight models in wind tunnels have been found useful in medical science for measuring blood pressure as well as for determining the performance of the heart accurately.
The device used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to detect life in other planets can be used for rapid detection of urinary tract infection. The technique’s basic principle lies in the sparking of firefly chemicals on contact with the high energy biochemical, Adenosine triphosphate, a compound found universally in all living organisms. The newly developed automated device can test a urine sample in 15 minutes and resumes another testing in a minute.
The unmanned and radio-directed instrument carriers which were used on the moon have been redesigned to assist crippled children. Similarly, a switch controlled by movement of eyes alone and devised for astronauts now enables paralyzed patients to drive motor-driven wheelchairs.
Events taking place in the absence of the gravitational pull hold clues to understanding many problems. Research conducted under conditions of weightlessness or microgravity has manifold applications. This necessitates man’s presence in space. It has been observed that astronauts lose bone muscle mass and their immune system also gets weakened on prolonged stay in microgravity conditions. Researchers on board the international space station will try to find out the cellular mechanism of bone loss and ways to combat it. This will also help people facing calcium deficiency in their bones.
The fact that flames burn more clearly in space can help in designing better and effective burners for fuels in cars and boilers. More research under conditions of microgravity will help tackle practical and everyday problems on earth.
The ill-fated space shuttle, Columbia, was, in fact, a 24-hour space laboratory. Astronauts on board had completed most of the scheduled 80-odd experiments during the 16-day mission, in collaboration with more than 70 scientists on the ground. The results of the Water Mist Fire Suppression Experiment, conducted in zero-gravity condition, are expected to provide a better understanding of the fire extinguishing quality of mist. This experiment was necessary, as the Montreal protocol has banned the use of halons to extinguish fires.
An experiment on compression of granular materials will further our understanding of construction techniques. Experiments on the evolution of zeolite crystals will help speed up chemical processes used in biomedicine, refining and other areas.
Cell culture in conditions of weightlessness will provide new breakthrough in the fields of prostate cancer and crop yield. In the case of the former, attempts at growing protein crystals will help scientists to study possible therapies against the factors causing cancer and for the intense pain the patient suffers from.
The outer space has infinite potential. For those willing to take risks, and eager to adapt to new experience, it can be most rewarding. The need to implement the knowledge acquired in space experiments for the benefit of mankind and uplift of conditions of existence on earth can never be overemphasized.