By Aimee Slaughter

Space exploration can seem a very distant thing at times, something unconnected to our daily lives. Maybe the idea of space brought down to Earth conjures up images of scientists with impossible IQs in lab coats working in government laboratories, or astronauts-in-training eating goop out of tubes, but none of the everyday things everyday people do. In these normal activities, however, space exploration and education have very important roles. Space is truly everywhere, whether or not we see it. Outside of TANG® (which in reality turns out not to be a child of the space program at all), most people recognize very little of the large impact space and its exploration has on them. Space gives us pioneering products, but also teaches.

The impact of space reaches us at every level, from the global to the personal. In today’s increasingly wired world, technological advances work their way into even the most usual of tasks, and usually without our noticing it. Still think the best thing you’ve experienced from the space program is three-flavor freeze-dried ice cream? Well, just think back on your day a little and keep reading.

Technology that originated with space exploration has a variety of applications today, including some very vital systems and some that range to the more mundane. So, what has space done for you today? For starters, if you’ve looked at your wristwatch, the space program developed the quartz timing crystals that make it tick. Your neighbors are probably looking at their watches, waiting for their cordless power tools back, especially since cordless tools were first created to help take soil samples on the moon. If you’ve made a purchase recently, the bar code on the back of it was originally designed to keep track of millions of spacecraft parts. The next time you’re in for a doctor’s visit, think about these spin-offs: pacemakers, many medical monitors, much of the portable equipment in ambulances, and not forgetting those eye charts with the sideways Es, are all based on developments of the space program (the first three stem from the difficulties in examining patients from thousands of miles away; the last, from techniques developed for analyzing photographs of space). Then of course there are little things like lithium batteries, smoke detectors, microchips, and satellites worldwide that relay signals for radio, television, mobile phones, internet service providers, and the Global Positioning System.

Many things we take for granted would be nonexistent today if we hadn’t taken those first steps into space only a few decades ago. The Economic Impact of Commercial Space Transportation on the U.S. Economy of the Federal Aviation Administration states, “Space is an integral part of daily living,” which will continue to be true in the future. Of course, the primary goal of space exploration is the exploration itself, not spin-off technologies, but these are valuable by-products nevertheless, ones that we have become accustomed to. Inescapably woven into the texture of modern life, space will continue to affect us as long as we wonder what is beyond the horizon.

Space has a great many things it can share with us on a less materialistic side as well. In a 1999 statement, NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin said, “Education is the single most important issue our generation faces today that will influence our nation’s course for the future.” Space plays an even larger role in the lives of some people than it does for most, and they’re not all rocket scientists. Space education connects the universe with many people, as teachers and as learners, and most often as both.

Many chapters of NSS are actively participating in and creating their own activities and outreaches in their areas. Our chapters, and many individual members, possess experience, knowledge, and resources in many areas of space science, and the enthusiasm to communicate their idea of space to others. Chapters’ educational programs share a vision of our future and try to inspire an interest in space in those who maybe hadn’t given it much thought. Reaching out into the community fosters awareness of the knowledge we gain from space.

In addition, colleges are another place where the many space-related fields are being investigated. Students around the world are involved in research, projects, and teams that are active in any number of areas, from satellite design to astrobiology. In learning by doing, students not only gain a better understanding of the subjects but also invaluable experience in sometimes highly specialized areas. As students, they represent the next generation that will lead us towards space.

The many benefits of the study of space and space travel manifest themselves as new advances we take for granted in our daily lives and as knowledge obtained in the exploration of the universe. Stephen Hawking has said, “To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” Learning about space, linked with its exploration, is a continuing effort. Space education is a fascinating and necessary way of ensuring a place for discovery in our future. N