ESA To Push Real-Life Benefits Of Space Program Investment

May 6, 2012
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The European Space Agency (ESA) is reportedly planning to launch a new branding campaign to raise awareness of space travel’s impact on the global economy and product innovation.

The forthcoming marketing venture, which was the subject of an article by Chris Wickham of Reuters, is intended to let taxpayers know that their investment in space programs, including the International Space Station (ISS), is being rewarded through such products as memory foam mattresses and in-ear thermometers.

“The list of products and technologies that have their roots in space research is long“¦ but in a world struggling to pay the bill from the financial crisis the billions of dollars spent on space exploration are increasingly hard to justify,” Wickham wrote. “The branding plan is an indication that space scientists are concerned about cuts to space agency budgets, and worried that their contribution to economic growth is not fully recognized.”

While the ESA said it will take an estimated $130-plus billion to operate and maintain the space station over the next decade, NASA’s ISS Director Mark Uhran believes it is money well spent, telling Reuters that it “frustrates” those involved in the program because “we know we have a valuable asset.”

Likewise, NASA ISS Program Scientist Julie Robinson said that, due largely to an increase in the amount of scientific work now being done on the recently-completed facility, that cutting funding to the program would actually harm the economies of the 14 participating nations (the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland).

“Research on the space station cuts across disciplines, from biotechnology to materials science, all in a series of laboratories stuffed with equipment, now covering an area equivalent to a football field and orbiting the earth at more than 17,000 miles an hour,” Wickham said. “What it offers science is a stable environment in microgravity, essentially weightlessness, that can only be replicated in short bursts on earth through the parabolic flight of aircraft used for spaceflight training and research.”

Among the developments that microgravity-based research has led to include the development of metallic foam used in the automotive industry, an alloy known as titanium aluminide that helps provide lower-weight jet engine turbine blades, cold plasma-based sterilization processes that could help kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and even substances that could help preserve foods and make them taste better, Reuters said.

“One of the issues is that people don’t really understand the process by which knowledge is turned into the things around us,” University of Birmingham and ESA scientist Mike Cruise told Wickham. “If we are going to get the most out of the space station, we need to move concepts into action as quickly as possible.”

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Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

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