THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Every time you settle back in the comfort of your car seat or flaunt your spanking new sunglasses, remember to thank cutting-edge space technology.
Spin-offs of space technology abound in our daily life, but in most instances we are blissfully unaware that the little gadgets or techniques that make our lives a lot simpler had their origins in ideas intended not for us, but for astronauts. An oft-quoted example is that of the ball-point pen. It was originally thought up to enable astronauts perform the rather simple act of writing in a micro-gravity environment where ink pens are worthless.
‘Spin-offs of space technology’ was the topic of the weekly talk organised by the Institution of Engineers, Thiruvananthapuram chapter, on Wednesday. The speaker, Abdul Majeed, a former Deputy Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), gave interesting examples to how space technology by-products have enriched our life. ‘’Apart from direct applications such as in space or military, spin-offs from space technology have paid us very rich dividends. In fact, they have had a tremendous impact on our lives,’’ Abdul Majeed, who has figured in some of the biggest projects of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said.
Be it transportation, telecommunication, healthcare, education or design of large systems, space technology has contributed - significantly, he said. ‘’Design management is one area which other government agencies especially, can adapt from space science. Now it’s almost non-existent in many of our government departments,’’ he pointed out.
The body-hugging form of your car seat is typical of how space science has enhanced our comfort levels while driving. The seats were originally designed for NASA spacecraft based on the natural posture a human body assumes in a micro-gravity environment. Or take scratch-proof sun-glasses. Diamonds are the toughest objects known to man, but they do have a problem; they are terribly expensive. So to make visors on space suits tougher, space scientists came up with a diamond-like carbon material. The sunglass industry quickly latched on to it to make the glasses tougher and scratch-proof!
Or, yet again, take key-hole surgery. ‘’Another NASA technology originally intended to enable the best surgeons perform operations on astronauts who are in space. Essentially it has made surgeries easier and faster,’’ Majeed explained. Likewise, radial tyres saw a vast improvement after Goodyear developed a tough fibrous material for the parachute shrouds on the Viking lander. Another similar development, a technology used in the fuel pumps of NASA space shuttles is currently undergoing trials in another sector - for developing artificial hearts, Abdul Majeed said. Even the now-familiar vehicle tracking systems can be traced back to the space shuttle missions.
ISRO too has made significant, but on a much lower scale, contributions in spin-offs, he said. The most recent example is CASPOL, a fire-retardant material that can be employed to prevent fires in buildings and vehicles. The technology had been tested out on PSLV and GSLV rockets to prevent fuel tanks from catching fire!
‘’Unfortunately we haven’t focussed too much on spin-offs,’’ said Abdul Majeed. ‘’We need to change our methods, forecast future needs and emerging technologies and identify technologies and processes to be developed for societal needs,’’ he said. Still, if you ask him what ISRO’s biggest spin-off is, he will promptly tell you, ‘’the contribution to our national pride.’’