Why study about space?
You may have heard someone ask, "Why waste money and other resources on studying outer space?" The answer is within us. When we look up into the sky, which is sometimes a pleasant blue with cotton candy clouds and sometimes little pebbles in the sky such as the moon and the stars in a dark blanket, making us wonder what are they or why they are shining, or how is it like to be there, what else is there, and many other questions. Curiosity is instilled in us from a very young age, from the time when we started singing the famous rhyme, "Twinkle, Twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are!" Finding answers to such questions would always be an exciting job, and experiencing what the world outside our planet looks like is more than exciting.
If we humans were never curious and did not try to know the deep mysteries behind every natural phenomenon that happened on earth, or tried to advance from the basic way of living, we would not have clarity of the mysteries of the universe to this extent. Our researchers have spent time and worked hard to answer their own curious minds and help improve our way of living. Space exploration is the result of a combination of different fields of science, like astrobiology, astrochemistry, astrophysics, space medicine, and many more. Even though it was started out of curiosity and to develop new technologies, it has opened the door to deeper possibilities.
Developments in space missions got a boost after the launch of the very first artificial satellite of earth, in 1957, by the early USSR, named Sputnik (Administrator, 2015). It encouraged other countries to also get involved in studying space more keenly. This remarkable mission led to the great events of Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon, the installation of the International Space Station in low-earth orbit (What Is The International Space Station (ISS)? - Fossbytes, n.d.), a joint venture by the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, and Europe, and the launch of many space objects for various purposes, which included astrobiology research too. This research might not give any results that can be used in the near future, like the research that happens in the medical field (diabetics or cancer research), physics, or energy, but it can be useful at the right time.
We are already enjoying the indirect impact of research in the field of space exploration, on the development of technology in many ways, a few of which we will discuss below, while many are yet to be realized.
- Revolution on the way: Scientists studying about life surviving in extreme environments help in gaining better understanding about how the possible life might be existing on other planets, where to search for life in the outer space etc. A group of microbiologists led by Thomas D. Brock were studying the life forms that survived in hot water springs and geysers. In 1966, while studying the bacteria living at a temperature of 73 ℃ in the Mushroom Spring of the Yellowstone National Park, they isolated the heat-resistant, colorful bacteria called T. aquaticus. His student, Hudson Freeze, showed that the bacterial culture was able to grow even at 79 ℃. His students also found that the various enzymes and ribosomes of these bacteria were also active at this high temperature and even in boiling water heat (Brock & Fred, 1997). The enzyme, Taq Polymerase, isolated from these bacteria could withstand continuous heating and cooling. It is an important element of the technique called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The enzyme helps in the process of DNA replication. PCR is used for studying a small amount of genetic material by rapidly multiplying their number and their presence can be traced by fluorescent material (Key Ingredient in Coronavirus Tests Comes from Yellowstone’s Lakes, n.d.).PCR, once a time-consuming and difficult process, was made simpler and easier by this discovery. Therefore, studying microbial life and exploring such unknown areas can turn out to be vital. A broad understanding of microbial life can help us to be more careful about the harm it can cause and even use it positively.
- The reverse transcriptase enzyme that was used in the reverse transcription quantitative PCR for COVID-19 test kits developed at Georgia Tech where the RTX enzyme (reverse transcriptase xenopolymerase), used for the replication of the "alien gene," was produced in Steven Benner’s lab. This artificial enzyme has a self error-correction capacity, which helps to verify the DNA it builds and thus reduces the percentage of errors to a great level (Astrobiologists Aid in Fighting Coronavirus | News | Astrobiology, n.d.).
- Weather satellites predict accurate weather conditions and help humanity to be alert during any natural calamities. The first weather satellite to be launched was TIROS-1 in 1960. The total health of the earth’s atmosphere is monitored for harmful greenhouse gases and other hazardous chemicals.
- Advancement in space technology has improved our lifestyle by providing us access to international phone calls, video calls, satellite TV, etc. The banking and finance sectors have also seen a great change with the introduction of instant money transfers and online banking (The Space Review: How Space Technology Benefits the Earth, n.d.). In this digital era, we are able to do instant bank transfers, watch and be part of live events from different parts of the world, availability of all news in just one touch in our phones, and more are made possible through the advancement in space programmes.
- Another game changer in human history was the introduction of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS), Navigation, and Time Tracking Technology. It helps to accurately locate a position and navigate to another destination while tracking the correct time. This enables the cab drivers to reach our exact location, track our online order, etc.
- The installation of the International Space Station is for carrying out experiments in zero gravity and allows the astronauts who are sent into space to live there. Monitoring the health conditions of astronauts’ gives new insights into the effects of ageing on the human body as bone density and muscle mass are lost during long space missions. Thus, studying these conditions helps research on osteoporosis, balance problems, Type 2 diabetes, and various heart diseases (Health Care with Space Exploration | Canadian Space Agency, n.d.).
- Technology developed for Canadian space robots is helpful in performing precise brain surgeries and biopsies for detecting breast cancer. Bio-monitor and bio-analyzer devices have been developed to help record the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as test samples of blood, urine, and saliva, in order to monitor the health of the astronauts from Earth. The result is received on earth in a few hours for expert opinion. These developments in the medical industry can be used to provide medical care for people living in remote parts of the world (Health Care with Space Exploration | Canadian Space Agency, n.d.).
- The g-suit, or the antigravity suit, used by the astronauts while returning back to Earth to reduce the risks of cardiovascular deconditioning due to weightlessness in space, is used in the treatment of women bleeding after childbirth. The non-inflated g-suits put external pressure on the woman’s lower body in order to stop bleeding after labor.
- The Advanced Astroculture (TM) (ADVASC) programme (growing produce from seeds in space) that took place on the ISS employed a number of novel technologies that are now widely used on Earth. The ethylene scrubber, which is used to remove ethylene in order to protect the produce from decay, later aided in the development of air purifiers on Earth, which kill the majority of harmful pathogens and viruses in the air that cause diseases such as flu, pneumonia, and so on. This is used in preserving food products and keeping the air safe in hotels, doctor’s rooms, offices, and other public places. The effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs is aided by using the light that was used to stimulate the process of photosynthesis in plants in the ADVASC (Health Care with Space Exploration | Canadian Space Agency, n.d.).
- A novel technology was developed to recycle used water into clean drinking water. Due to the difficulty of sending huge amounts of water for space research and for the astronauts living there, technology to recycle laundry water and even urine was developed to provide cleaner and safer water for drinking and living (Health Care with Space Exploration | Canadian Space Agency, n.d.). This technology is also of great help in meeting the problem of scarcity of drinking water on earth.
The world's diverse habitats are a wealth of information, and studying them can protect human life from the threats they pose. We also have the responsibility of taking care of the precious environment we are living in. A deep knowledge of the complex outer space ecosystems can help us with new ideas to protect our Earth and its resources. It also provides for the development of new, advanced technologies, to help tackle the serious problems we humans face on earth. Space exploration has greatly improved our lifestyle by providing small mobile phones with high-quality cameras, the internet to connect with others in different parts of the world, medical advancements, and so on. Exploring outer space gives us an added responsibility towards our home, Earth, to protect its natural resources and the beautiful environment it provides for us to live here. Researchers are looking for a place for humans to live outside of the Earth if natural resources become depleted due to overpopulation and other man-made disasters, but we should be more careful in taking care of our mother earth and exploring more of its mysterious environments.
- Administrator, N. C. (2015). Sputnik 1. http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_924.html
- Astrobiologists Aid in Fighting Coronavirus | News | Astrobiology. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/news/astrobiologists-aid-in-fighting-coronavirus-2/
- Brock, T. D., & Fred, E. B. (1997). The Value of Basic Research: Discovery of 117termus aquaticus and Other Extreme Thermophiles. Historical And Critical Commentaries on Genetics, 146, 1207–1210.
- Health Care with space exploration | Canadian Space Agency. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/about/everyday-benefits-of-space-exploration/improving-health-care.asp
- Key ingredient in coronavirus tests comes from Yellowstone’s lakes. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/key-ingredient-in-coronavirus-tests-comes-from-yellowstone
- The Space Review: How space technology benefits the Earth. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://thespacereview.com/article/3768/1
- What Is The International Space Station (ISS)? - Fossbytes. (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://fossbytes.com/what-is-the-international-space-station-iss/