by Valerie Wells | photos provided by NASA/Johnson Space Center
Sixty years ago this October, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration began its quest to take humans into space. That mission continues today as U.S. officials plan to go back to the moon and to prepare for future flights to Mars. “We’re on the cusp of a new golden age of exploration,” Vice President Mike Pence said Aug. 23 at the Johnson Space Center. “It’s not a question of if, it’s just a question of when.”
Training men and women to travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere and to live on other planets begins in Houston, home of the Johnson Space Center. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29, 1958, and NASA took off on its scientific expedition Oct. 1, 1958. Three years later, Johnson Space Center opened in 1961 in the Clear Lake area southwest of Houston. The center, named for President Lyndon B. Johnson, is home of the historic Mission Control that made Houston synonymous with space exploration. Six decades later, NASA engineers, scientists and contractors in the Houston area are creating more advanced space suits and safer spacewalks, theorizing how planets formed and testing powerful telescopes that will one day go into space. “The Johnson Space Center has unique capabilities that are critical to NASA’s ability to execute our mission to take humans farther into the solar system,” said Mark Geyer, who became director of the center in July.
Those same NASA engineers who are advancing space technology also coach their children’s robotic teams, such as the League City Intermediate School RoboCats.
Many NASA employees and contractors in the Houston area contribute to their communities in other ways. Some organize bike-to-work groups while others find time to train people how to use 3D printers and other technology. Mike Foreman, mayor of Friendswood, is a former astronaut who has said that his experience with NASA shaped his leadership style. Students across the country have visited with NASA astronauts and experts via satellite to ask questions and learn about innovations. “As citizens of the world, it’s vital we challenge ourselves as everyday explorers,” said William T. Harris, president and CEO of the science and space exploration learning center. “Together with ingenuity and perseverance, we will build a greater tomorrow for future generations.”
NASA experiments turned products that make life easier.
- Researchers trying to improve crash protection created a temper foam or memory foam now used in mattresses.
- Most baby food formulas are enriched with an algae product first created for food in space.
- Cordless miniature vacuum cleaners are the result of NASA research to create a compact drill for taking planetary samples.
- Researchers developed freeze-dried food technology for the Apollo missions.
- Infrared ear thermometers measure the amount of energy emitted by the eardrum, the same way scientists measure the temperature of stars and planets.
- New artificial limbs with robotic technology and shock-absorption materials started with NASA research.
- Better tires for cars came from experiments creating better parachute shrouds for spacecraft.
- Water purification systems also began with NASA research on reusing water for the International Space Station.