Some people do not understand the space program. They consider it an indulgence with little to add to the practical world. What they fail to consider is that the space program has facilitated much of the science that is responsible for today's technological advances. In fact, putting aside anything that the space program has contributed to the knowledge of the universe as a greater system, it is still clear that the space program has made significant contributions to modern technology. In order to explore the relationship between the space program and technological innovation, this paper will examine the impact of the Apollo Program on modern technology. Discoveries made as part of the Apollo Program have led to advances and changes across a wide swath of modern technology; literally changing the face of modern America. Furthermore, these changes would not have been likely with the information garnered as part of the Apollo program. As a result, it is fair to suggest that all Americans have been impacted by the space program.
One of the major technological changes ushered in by the Apollo Program is the widespread utilization of satellites in everyday life. Prior to the Apollo Program, satellites were not routinely used for every day commercial use. In modern life, many things are dependent upon satellites for operation. While some of these things are sensitive government operations, such as spy satellites that are used to gather intelligence on friends and enemies, alike, others are simply routine applications, such as the use of satellites to keep cellular phones and cable service operational for consumers. "Satellites provide regional and global communication networks, and position, navigation, and timing capabilities that are essential to the functioning of the global economy" (Sadeh, Unk.). While satellites may facilitate some of the technological perks of modern society, they also play a critical role in the more scientific-seeming of modern advances. For example, satellites allow for more accurate weather predicting, which results in lives being saved (Sadeh, Unk.). This same satellite-facilitated weather-prediction ability allows for the more responsible use of natural resource in farming (Sadeh, Unk.).
The Apollo mission was significant in changing technology in all of the above areas, but it is perhaps best known for the technological innovations it ushered in for computers and computing. Older computers were different from modern computers in two significant ways: size and speed. These differences were interconnected; the large size of older computers meant that information had to travel further distances during the computing process, which added time to the process. When computer speeds are measured in micro-second intervals, these have a significant impact on processing time, even when information is moving at close to the speed of light. The Apollo program helped change things because one of the challenges of the early Apollo researchers was reducing the size of on-board computers. "Because sending a large mass into space cost a great deal of money, NASA needed to cut down on weight and power consumption. Once the integrated circuit was developed, NASA was able to achieve this goal since all of the components could be put on a small chip rather than a large board with individual transistors and other circuit components" (Bravo Tech, 2010).
Therefore, while the Apollo missions were not responsible for creation of the computer, which existed prior to the Apollo missions, they did help facilitate the creation of the modern computer. In fact, "The string of Apollo missions alone- which ran from the ill-fated, never flown Apollo 1 mission in 1967 to Apollo 17, the last to land men on the moon, in 1972 -- had a critical and often overlooked impact on technology at a key time in the computer industry" (Gaudin, 2009). These developments facilitated the creation of today's modern computer-dominated world. The incredible speed of modern computers, particularly home computers, is one of the reasons that computers have become ubiquitous throughout modern life. They owe their speed to the integrated circuits on their processing chips, and those processing chips developed as a result of innovation under the Apollo mission. "The development of that integrated circuit, the forebearer to the microchip, basically is a miniaturized electronic circuit that did away with the manual assembly of separate transistors and capacitors. Revolutionizing electronics, integrated circuits are used in nearly all electronic equipment today" (Gaudin, 2009).
Not all of the technological innovations that are linked to the space program are concentrated in the areas of computing. Instead, the contributions range across all areas. For example, NASA researchers were concerned with developing a way for astronauts to explore the surface of the moon while dealing with the low-gravity conditions that existed on the moon. "Al Gross, a NASA Apollo Program engineer, used his space expertise to improve athletic shoes. He substituted DuPont's Hytrel plastic for foam materials in the shoe's mid-sole to eliminate cushioning loss caused by body weight. An external pressurized shell and stress-free "blow molding" process adapted from NASA spacesuit technology was also used" (NASA, 2007). This created the first modern athletic shoe, which was initially manufactured by the company AVIA, and which has become a standard part of modern athletic footwear.
In fact, the world of sports have benefitted multiple times from the innovation of the space program. One example is the engineering marvel of today's retractable-roof stadiums, a technology that seems so improbable that it is difficult to even imagine the development process. The first retractable-roof stadium was Houston's Reliant Stadium, and, given Houston's connection to the space program, that coincidence seems less coincidental. "NASA's spacesuit fabric has fostered many new innovations, including a permanent structure fabric developed for the Apollo Program and produced by New York-based Birdair, Inc. Pound for pound, the material is stronger than steel and weighs less than five ounces per square foot. Its translucency value, which ranges from four to 18%, reduces lighting needs and helps maintain the natural grass playing field. Its reflectivity lowers cooling costs, and the Teflon coating reduces maintenance costs by increasing the fabric's resistance to moisture, temperature extremes and deterioration. These factors combine to lower initial costs and speed construction" (NASA, 2007).
Not all Apollo-linked innovation has been commercialized in a way that focuses on profit; some of it has been used to literally save lives. For example, firefighters face some of the same challenges as astronauts; primarily, the challenge of being able to breathe in oxygen poor environments. "A National Bureau of Standards / NASA project resulted in a lightweight breathing system including facemask, frame, harness and air bottle marketed by Scott Aviation. Aluminum composite material was used to reduce the weight of the overall apparatus, and the frame and harness were designed to be much easier to put on and take off. Today nearly every major manufacturer of breathing apparatus incorporates NASA technology in some form, helping to reduce the incidence of inhalation-related injuries" (NASA, 2007).
It is important to realize that this innovation did not come without a heavy price tag. Comparing government-sponsored research and development (R&D) for the space program with government-sponsored R&D in other areas, one truth becomes clear; like the Manhattan project, the Apollo program "goals pointed to technologies primarily for governmental use with little concern about their environmental impact" (Stine, 2009). As a result, many of the technological advances that have been incorporated into daily life actually have a negative impact on the world as a whole. For example, the amount of pollution that has been the direct result of the rapid advancement in personal computing technologies is not even understood, but when people dispose of laptops, personal computers, cellular phones, and similar electronic devices, they are not only disposing of the precious metals that are components of the phone, but also frequently of dangerous materials that, if placed in a landfill, present hazards to people in the surrounding areas.
That does not mean that all Apollo-mission related innovation is bad for the environment. On the contrary, the Apollo missions led to the development of more readily usable solar cell technology. By turning solar rays into electricity, solar panels are meant to provide greater electric resources with less pollution than traditional ways of producing electricity. "Innovations developed with technology from NASA's Apollo lunar module program have created a renewable energy resource used on Earth and in space. Solar panels collect electricity by absorbing light when it strikes the surface and transfers it to a semiconductor. These solar panels are used on calculators, streetlights, houses and the International Space Station" (NASA, 2007).
Perhaps the greatest contributions of the Apollo program R&D have been the medical advances that have resulted from the project. The Apollo research has directly led to advances in multiple branches of medicine, including, but not limited to: implantable heart monitors, pacemakers, dialysis, temperature lowering technology, and systems for the better delivery of prescription drugs (NASA, 2007). The heart monitors and the pacemaker are the most fascinating of these innovations, as they allow personalized interventions in patient heart health from a…