Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Goal To Die For

Susan Nielsen, writing in the Oregonian, makes a good point in this article titled:
Make space travel worth dying for
She makes a case that space travel has become too bland, dull, unexciting and ho hum, and that the latest mission of the shuttle was:

...to haul some stuff to the International Space Station, make some repairs and haul some trash home.

Snore. It's like watching seven really smart people do weekend chores.

Given the extensive news coverage of the mission, with expert after expert speculating incessantly about the possible deleterious effects of minute whiskers of stray materials on the return voyage, the immediate hold placed on future launches pending solutions to the problems revealed, and the concern of the man-in-the-street over astronaut safety, she appears to assess the situation correctly.

No wonder Americans have lost enthusiasm for space and become obsessed with astronaut safety, as if space travel should be safer than a drive to the grocery store in an air-bagged Volvo.

That obsession with safety goes further than an air-bagged Volvo. It includes all vehicles now, down to and including the Hyundai that I drive. The obsession with safety now also encompasses all aspects of our lives. We've even infused our educational system with safety. Not only physical, but psychological as well. Political Correctness* is the vehicle used to insure that we are free from any offensive learning, with safety from rejection as a goal. Safety is foisted on us in what we eat, how we exercise, and public and private behavior. Back to Ms. Nielsen and space travel:

This has to change. If we're going to bother with space travel, we should take worthwhile risks. Otherwise, we'll keep running short on rewards.

Rewards. What rewards? I've been asked recently what, with the exception of Teflon and Tang, has the space program ever given us? Funny you should ask.
Health and Medicine - NASA Spinoffs

DIGITAL IMAGING BREAST BIOPSY SYSTEM - The LORAD Stereo Guide Breast Biopsy system incorporates advanced Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs) as part of a digital camera system. The resulting device images breast tissue more clearly and efficiently. Known as stereotactic large-core needle biopsy, this nonsurgical system developed with Space Telescope Technology is less traumatic and greatly reduces the pain, scarring, radiation exposure, time, and money associated with surgical biopsies.

BREAST CANCER DETECTION - A solar cell sensor is positioned directly beneath x-ray film, and determines exactly when film has received sufficient radiation and has been exposed to optimum density. Associated electronic equipment then sends a signal to cut off the x-ray source. Reduction of mammography x-ray exposure reduces radiation hazard and doubles the number of patient exams per machine.

LASER ANGIOPLASTY - Laser angioplasty with a "cool" type of laser, caller an excimer laser, does not damage blood vessel walls and offers precise non-surgical cleanings of clogged arteries with extraordinary precision and fewer complications than in balloon angioplasty.

ULTRASOUND SKIN DAMAGE ASSESSMENT - Advanced instrument using NASA ultrasound technology enables immediate assessment of burn damage depth, improving patient treatment, and may save lives in serious burn cases.

HUMAN TISSUE STIMULATOR - Employing NASA satellite technology, the device is implanted in the body to help patient control chronic pain and involuntary motion disorders through electrical stimulation of targeted nerve centers or particular areas of the brain.

COOL SUIT - Custom-made suit derived from space suits circulates coolant through tubes to lower patient's body/ temperature, producing dramatic improvement of symptoms of multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other conditions.

PROGRAMMABLE PACEMAKER - Incorporating multiple NASA technologies, the system consists of the implant and a physician's computer console containing the programming and a data printer. Communicates through wireless telemetry signals.

OCULAR SCREENING - NASA image processing techniques are used to detect eye problems in very young children. An electronic flash from a 35-millimeter camera sends light into the child's eyes, and a photorefractor analyzes the retinal reflexes, producing an image of each eye.

Visit that site. There are many, many more spin-offs from the space program listed. These benefit not only the United States, but humanity as a whole. (and thanks to e-Claire for the pointer.)

Back to Ms. Nielsen again (emphasis mine):


But if the United States is going to keep putting Americans in space, it has to send them somewhere new. That's the nature of exploration and innovation. Go further or stagnate. Risk nothing, get nothing. Risk everything and reap big rewards.

If the trend toward tiny risks and bite-size rewards continues, our reach will no longer exceed our grasp. And if that day comes, the United States will have no business launching people into space.

Instead of making space travel something to die for, let's make it something to live for! Get on board, write your Congressman and express your support for space exploration.

* political correctness
Actions or expressions that avoid excluding, marginalising, or insulting individuals or groups over issues such as gender, culture, race or ability. The term is often used in a derogatory way to suggest that these actions or expressions are motivated more by the desire to conform to prevailing social standards rather than a genuine respect for the rights of the individual or the group.

Technorati : , , , , , , , , ,