Every year, NASA releases a publication summarizing how technologies developed for use in space translate into valuable solutions here on Earth. This process, known as technology transfer, is an essential component of understanding the importance of going to Mars.
Space is a highly unique environment. When finding solutions to technical challenges beyond our atmosphere, our best and brightest engineering minds consistently encounter novel and complex obstacles. Similarly, while performing research based on data gathered off-world, scientists make fascinating and valuable discoveries.
The resulting findings and innovations teach us unexpected ways of resolving hard problems in space and on Earth.
There are thousands of examples of this process. Here are just a few:
The technology behind widely-used, efficient, low-cost solar cells was developed through the NASA ERAST program.
Satellites are a cornerstone of space technology. In addition to enabling modern communications and GPS, they are also crucial to generating accurate data on the health of our planet. This is essential for our ability to understand and manage global warming, desertification, deforestation and more.
Cleaning toxins from contaminated water
Technology originally developed by NASA for removing toxins from paint in their facilities has been adapted to eliminate PCBs and other toxins from soil and groundwater.
Converting oil waste emissions into fuel
Technology developed by Pioneer Astronautics (founded by The Mars Society USA founder Robert Zubrin) for making use of resources on Mars (ISRU) is being applied to turn waste gas emissions into usable fuel.
MRI and CATScan technology
Current MRI and CATScan technologies rely on processes developed to enhance images of the Moon.
Miniaturization technology designed for interplanetary spacecraft was a prerequisite to the cameras we have in our cellphones.
The breathing apparatus used by firefighters to protect their lungs from smoke inhalation is a development of the U.S. space program.
Efficient water use
Various technologies have been developed for water filtration and efficient water use in space. Many of these have been applied here on Earth to provide access to safe water, and to ease demand on our aquifers.
As you may have noticed, many of these examples were developed by NASA, the best-funded national space agency in the world. This is a clear demonstration of the value of a well-funded space program.
So Where does Mars Fit In?
As of April 2021, humanity will have been a spacefaring species for barely 60 years. Since Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space, less than one single lifetime has passed. This brief time will ultimately be regarded as the infancy of our history as space explorers. With the recent advent of true launch vehicle reusability and the rapid growth of the commercial space industry, the cost of spaceflight is tumbling.
Access to space was once achievable only through enormous expense by national governments, but this is no longer the case. It is becoming accessible to, and affordable for a far greater range of individuals and organizations.
As we enter our adolescence as spacefarers, the scope and scale of resulting innovation and discovery will increase drastically. The backbone of this growth will be the exploration and settlement of Mars.
By establishing a permanent human presence on the red planet, we will generate significant scientific insight and technology in many areas, such as:
– Sustainable energy generation in order to power our outposts and settlements
– Sustainable agriculture to meet the nutrient demands of astronauts and settlers
– Planetary and Earth Science by learning about Mars, and thus developing a better understanding of Earth
– Biology in the search for signs of Martian life, and by studying the introduction of life to Mars
– Material, chemical, electrical, civil, and mechanical engineering through designing Mars vehicles, systems, and facilities.
– Medical and Health Sciences by learning how to keep life from Earth healthy and safe on Mars
– Psychology and Social Sciences as we learn to function as a community on a new world, and between planets
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Written by MSC Chief Communications Officer Evan Plant-Weir, 2021