There’s a common misconception that the space industry is a waste of money, it does nothing to benefit life on Earth, and we should solve our planet’s crises before turning our eyes to the stars and other planets. But it’s actually astonishing how much the space industry does help life on Earth – in nearly ever facet on every corner of the globe. Let’s talk about some ways (“some” because there are far too many to name in one blog post) space helps us here on Earth.
Did you know data from NASA’s satellites led to the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica back in the mid-1980s? Now, there are hundreds of satellites that study climate change and how humans are affecting it. Here is an interactive article from Carbon Brief that shows how satellites help monitor and analyze climate change.
When we venture to live permanently on the Moon and Mars, habitats will need to be 3D-printed and most likely out of the resources we can extract from the surface of those celestial bodies. That technology can be funneled back into Earth to provide cheap and sustainable housing options to areas traditionally suffering from the housing crisis.
Here is an example of a challenge hosted by NASA to create 3D-printed habitats that can be used for sustainable housing on Earth.
In addition to monitoring climate change, the weather report you view on your phone every morning is provided by satellite data. The GOES satellite (which stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) is a satellite owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). GOES supports weather forecasting, severe storm tracking, and meteorology research.
I’ve talked a lot about this before, but when you open Google or Apple Maps, you are using data beamed from a satellite. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a constellation of satellites that provides the globe with navigation services. GPS is the US version but some other countries have their own systems as well. Without satellites, you would still have to use a paper map! GPS also helps with marine navigation, decreasing the amount of fuel needed to travel places which overall improves our environment.
Because the oceans make up 70% of the Earth’s surface, it’s a no brainer that NASA is also interested in studying them. NASA uses satellite data to monitor the effects our oceans have on our climate, weather, and natural disasters that come from water (hurricanes, tsunamis, etc). You can read more about these studies and what we do with this data here!
Satellite data helps monitor deforestation so that we can combat natural and unnatural destruction of our forests in the future. NASA discusses the importance of this observation and research here.
Did you know the first real customer for solar energy was the US Space Program? This is because many satellites and crewed space capsules rely heavily on solar energy from their solar panels for power. The technology developed for space-based solar panels has gone into Earth-based solar energy solutions. Additionally, the technology developed for space-based batteries and fuel cells has been used on Earth too. In fact, fuel cells were first used on the Apollo missions and are now used as clean energy solutions on Earth!
Data from satellites can help farmers know exactly when to water, where to plant, and when to harvest. This helps drastically with our efforts to combat the world hunger crisis. Additionally, data from GPS satellites helps farmers maximize efficiency with planting, watering, and harvesting, as well as continue to farm even in low-visibility conditions.
Data from weather satellites helps immensely in predicting disasters and moving people out of the way prior to the disaster hitting. But satellites also help after the disaster hits. The UN has an initiative called UN-SPIDER that uses satellite data to help with disaster relief efforts in developing countries.
Internet, Radio, and TV
Did you know SiriusXM comes from satellites? What about Dish TV? Or SpaceX’s new worldwide internet coverage coming from its Starlink satellites? Satellites have enabled communication methods far and wide across the globe, even to areas that traditionally can’t have access to internet, radio, and TV!
One of the largest areas of research onboard the International Space Station is medical research. Not only are we interested in how our bodies behave in micro-gravity and for very long periods of time, but we are also interested in how we can accelerate medical technology advancements by performing research in the unique micro-gravity environment the Space Station provides. From rapid vaccine development to new surgical methods, read more about the medical breakthroughs happening on board the ISS here.
Water and Air Purification
Technology developed for the life support systems onboard the International Space Station and other crewed spaceships like Apollo or the new Orion capsule is being used to purify water and air around the globe. Because the Space Station can’t filter air and water like we do on Earth, they have specially-designed filtration systems that are sustainable. In fact, astronauts’ pee gets recycled into drinkable water! Read more about these efforts here.
The International Space Station is a collaborative effort between 15 countries (listed here). In fact, the US works with Russia on the ISS – an unprecedented partnership given the entire reason we rapidly went to space in the 1960s was because of the Cold War and the Space Race with the Soviet Union.
Additionally, as we continue to expand to the Moon and Mars, countries will need to cooperate with each other and adhere to certain space laws. An Outer Space Treaty was signed in the 1960s and a new set of space laws/customs called the Artemis Accords were recently signed in October 2020 by eight countries (and counting).
Space is the epitome of international collaboration. Despite all of our political views, cultural views, and views of each other, countries can still come together to work toward the greater good of space exploration and travel.
With commercial companies rapidly entering the space market, space tourism becoming a reality more and more each day, the continued need for defensive capabilities in space, and humanity’s renewed focus on the Moon and Mars, the space industry is booming. This means economic growth, especially as we develop a lunar and cislunar economy, but also more jobs. Morgan Stanley predicts that the space industry will generate more than $1 trillion in revenue by 2040. Read the full report by Morgan Stanley here, it’s an interesting read!
And finally, humans are curious creatures, and we are always searching for the origins of life. We send probes to the outer edges of our solar system (and farther!), to asteroids to collect samples, and much, much more to study the origins of the universe and life itself.
The space industry touches essentially every part of life on Earth. I hope this post shed some light on that and why it’s important for our continued investment in space technology and exploration.