The Man on the Street and the Men on the Moon
Does walking on the moon make life better for people on earth? Considering all the problems of our own world, why should we be spending huge sums on trips to outer space? Such questions as these are often asked, especially by those whose tax money is paying for space exploration. The answers to these questions are many and varied.
Up to now, the practical benefits resulting from space research have included the development of new methods and skills, new processes, new services, new products, and even new companies created to make use of what has been learned through space travel. Also among the benefits are better education (especially in scientific subjects), more efficient management, higher quality of industrial products, and rapid economic growth. People all over the world are now served by improved weather predictions, better communication systems, and better understanding of the earth and its environment. Everyone will benefit as observations from space make it possible to measure the earth's resources and to observe whether or not they are being used properly. Increasingly, the space program will help our world deal with the problems of the environment. It has already brought a new appreciation of the complex system of which man is only a part.
One of the first areas of daily life to feel the effects of space travel was education. Americans felt challenged by the news of Sputnik I in 1957. Immediately their government responded by providing greatly increased financial support for U. S. education. Emphasis was placed on teaching more science and leaching it better, from the elementary grades through post-graduate school. Because education emphasized science and engineering, thousands of scientists and engineers were produced. These specialists participated more widely in government and industry than ever before..
In discussing how space travel has contributed to life on earth, some writers also emphasize the management methods which were developed in the effort to land men on the moon. That complex operation required new methods for directing the combined endeavours of thousands and thousands of minds, some in
government, some in universities, some in private industry—all working together for a common purpose. Of the set of management techniques that made the walk on the moon possible, one writer, Tom Alexander, has written in Fortune magazine: " This is potentially the most powerful tool in man's history. . . The question now is whether such techniques can be refashioned and turned to other tasks as well. "
Another result of the space travel has concerned the quality of industrial products. Early in the Space Age, some of the equipment used by astronauts failed to perform properly. Space program managers were convinced by these events that space travel would require greater assurance of quality and dependability than had previously been demanded in industry.
To deal with the problem of quality and dependability, those in charge of the space program emphasized the need for testing industrial products. Many companies that had to develop tests for the space program also manufactured products for use on earth, such as cars and planes. Since some parts are used both in space systems and in products for ordinary life, the emphasis on quality had spread through American industry. Many products are now more reliable than they might have been if men had not been sent to the moon.
In addition to improving the quality of existing products, the space program has been responsible for the development and improvement of new ones. The most important is the computer. To bring the endangered Apollo 13 home safely in 1970, a new flight plan had to be made taking account of an unbelievably complex combination of elements. The computer accomplished this task in seventy-two minutes, whereas a man or a woman working with pencil and paper would have taken more than a million years! If there had been no space program, it is doubtful that computers would now be so widely used in industry and government. More than 800, 000 people in the United States are now employed in jobs related to computers: it is a field in which some of the highest salaries are paid.
Thousands of other new products and processes are now found in industry as the result of space research. Among them are metal alloys, long-wearing paints, plastics, and new types of glue and other adhesives(粘合剂) , as well as new industrial tools. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a special program called Technology Utilization to speed the transfer of new ideas from the space program to commerce and industry. The U. S. Department of Commerce makes reports on this information available to organizations abroad.
New products and techniques for medicine have developed from the need to measure astronauts' response to space flights. Many of these products and techniques are useful to patients in hospitals. To take just one example, there is a unit as small as a cigarette package which can be strapped to a patient's arm to report on blood pressure, temperature, breathing, and other important information. Such devices allow a single nurse to observe changes in the condition of as many as sixty-four patients in an intensive-care unit.