Why care about space — Part 2

More Subtle Reasons

Abhinav Yadav
3 min readMay 7, 2023

Continuing from Why care about space series — these are subtle reasons that not everyone stops to think about.

Navigating our daily lives 🗺️

Did you know that Einstein’s theory of relativity has a practical application in our daily lives? Satellites orbiting our planet have their time tick differently relative to someone on the ground, just as predicted by relativity. GPS satellites have their time pre-corrected for this difference before they beam down our time & location. Without this knowledge we would still be communicating over radio.

So a compelling reason is that humanity is reaping benefits of scientific progress, but does not fully engage with it. As Carl Sagan eloquently put it

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster.

Technology Transfer 💵

Space exploration drives scientific research and technical advancements that have practical applications on Earth. For example, the Apollo program led to the development of fireproof material, freeze dried food and integrated circuits that are a backbone of our digital world. This has continued with creation of digital cameras, LED lighting, and health-improving research.

Even our floating lab in space, the International Space Station (ISS), continues to drive research and innovation, with the potential to improve everything from air quality to medicine.

NASA’s technology transfer program has allowed private enterprises to monetize on this scientific research, further driving innovation and economic growth.

Improvements in Air Travel 🛫

The first “A” in NASA stands for Aeronautics, and it’s no surprise that NASA has had a massive impact on the aviation industry. Improvements in wing and engine design, safety features, and guidance controls have made air travel safer and more efficient. NASA continues to drive research to reduce aviation industry’s carbon footprint, an important step in combating climate change.

Climate Modeling & Monitoring 🌍

Our space programs have massively contributed to progress in climate science. By gathering data from our planet and from every corner of our solar system, we are able to test our climate models and predict conditions far out into the future.

The latest example of data from our planet is the SWOT satellite, that’ll observe nearly all water on our planet’s surface. Another is repurposing NASA’s scientific instrument aboard the ISS for detecting Methane levels in Earth’s atmosphere. Simply put, you can observe a whole lot more from up there.

Our space programs have played a pivotal role in completing the climate model. As Adam Frank points out, it’s an uncelebrated triumph of humanity.

Until the 1960’s, we expected Venus to have balmy weather. It’s similar in size and orientation to Earth. While Mars was expected to be full of vegetation.It was only when we observed them closely, including sending space probes and understanding the role of atmospheric gasses, we realized that reality was quite different. Venus turned out to be hellish(960F). Mars was cold & dry.

So studying how climate on these planets evolved, helps us understand our own planet’s climate as well.

Finally, our space infrastructure keeps a close eye on our Sun, which can send powerful flares that can make life very hard on our planet.

All for less than 1% of the federal budget.

Credit: NASA
Projections in IPCC 2023 report on Climate Change. Compelling to see what my parents at 70 could face vs my 3-year old in the future.

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Abhinav Yadav

Engineer. Optimist. Top Writer in Space 🚀 🔭🌌