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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: space travel spin-off

Looking Back

Friday July 18 2014

Looking Back: Space Travel Spin-off

In July 1969, in advance of the first moon landing, Life and Work published this article by Bill Black discussing the incidental benefits of space research.

 Cover of July 1969 issue, showing the moon

On Sunday 20th July, five days after blast-off from Cape Kennedy, the Apollo 11 lunar module will gently touch down on the moon’s surface, probably in the Maskelyne crater in the Sea of Tranquillity.

Carefully and cautiously ten hours later a hatch will open. From the insect-like craft an American astronaut with the good Scots name of Neil Armstrong will descend a ladder to become the first man to set foot on another planet.

240,000 miles away all over the earth, millions will see this moment on television screens and hear the first words ever spoken by man from the moon.

The era of regular interplanetary travel will have begun.

“While the moon has been the focus of our effort,” says Mr. Thomas Paine, chief of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “our true goal is to develop and demonstrate the capability for interplanetary travel.”

But there is more to it than that. “We are providing the most exciting possible answer to the age-old question as to whether life as we know it on earth can exist on the moon and the planets.”

Not everyone shares Mr Paine’s enthusiasm and sense of purpose. There are critics who are convinced that the Apollo project is a wrong priority, and others who feel that the colossal cost is not justified.

Viewed in terms of the £10,000m. bill, the commercial return is slight. Measured in other terms, the benefits derived from the space programme in saving human lives and the improvements in the treatment of physical and mental illness are beyond reckoning.

In a recent issue of World Health some of the spin-off benefits which have advanced medical research are listed.

Because space travel requires men in peak physical and mental condition it became necessary early in the programme to define real standards of health.  “In this hitherto neglected field, the study of the healthy person,” writes a French Medical Professor, “progress has been such as to raise medicine once and for all from the stage of intelligent use of trial and error to that of the rational application of physiological knowledge.”

The detection and elimination of microbes, lest they affect the spacemen in their capsules, has led to techniques for vast improvements in hospital theatres and industry.

The development of self-sterilizing metals and coatings has been applied to surgical instruments.

Diets and foods developed for astronauts are now being used for patients confined to bed over long periods.

The means of protecting astronauts against shock are being applied to reduce the effects of road, rail and air crashes.

To ensure that being shut up in an air-tight capsule would not cause behavioural disturbances an intensive study was made of literature of those who had spent long periods in isolation – prisoners, the sick, and lost travellers. Improvements have been made (as a result) in psychiatric methods of treating the emotionally disturbed.

Light beams used in the space project already have several practical applications. By mounting light sources on a pair of spectacles a movement of the eyeballs can be made to operate switches at a distance. A motorised wheelchair which can be controlled by a glance has already been constructed.

New titanium alloys used in spacecraft construction had to have exceedingly low coefficients of friction. These will be of great value in making joints for artificial limbs.

Improvements in the quality of x-ray photographs; electromagnetically controlled valves used in constructing artificial hearts’ methods of detecting early symptoms of heart troubles and Parkinson’s disease; these and many other discoveries are directly derived from space research.

But the greatest benefit still waits to be claimed by mankind.

It has for long been one of the ‘justifications’ for war that man’s inventive genius is fully released only when survival is at stake. Perhaps the striving to reach more distant planets will provide America and Russia with the competitive stimulus that war used to provide.

On Sunday 25th May last, as he headed back to earth in Apollo 10, Col. Tom Stafford requested that in his local church that morning the readings should be from Psalms 122 and 138 and Isaiah II, 4.

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

At the dawn of a new age of revelation to man, please God, so let it be.

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