One might wonder how it is that turtles can extend and contract their necks so easily. Investigating that phenomenon is a worthy pursuit whether or not anything practical results from the inquiry. Engineering, on the other hand, is always practical. Engineering is problem solving for the good of mankind. Our space program, NASA, has been a blend of science and engineering.
When thinking about the space program, people around my age probably think first about TANG. TANG was a powder, which when added to cold water produced an orange-flavored drink. Artificial orange juice! Making glasses of TANG was one of my childhood delights. Unfortunately, TANG, a product of General Foods, predates the NASA program but other important developments, not always the most obvious, do not.
The Velcro fastening system came from the space program. Not only does Velcro help little children to keep their shoes on, it also helps give dignity and self-confidence to older folks whose stiffening fingers have a hard time with buttons and zippers. Also, of physical nature are voice-controlled wheelchairs and better prosthetics which are molded using a variation of the insulating foam from the space program.
Also, in the hardware aisle are cordless electric drills, improved batteries are small electric motors. Small electric motors are all over, from portable hair dryers to electric razors and electric toothbrushes. Insulating paint and smoke detectors also come from the space program and for drivers and beach goers we have improved sunglasses
And what of space satellites themselves? I am old enough to remember when launching a communications satellite was a headline event. Now we have Global Positioning Systems and cell phone tracking chips. I recall that some people thought that the first manned lunar landing was a hoax. The television reception from the moon was clearer then the broadcast of the baseball game which was only five miles from my home. Our son-in-law's father owns an excavating company. I once remarked that it must take a great deal of time to constantly adjust the height and angle of the leveling blades. Not so I was Told! A signal is transmitted from the equipment to a satellite and then bounced back again. The result is a constant automatic adjustment of the blades without the operator leaving the cab of the machine.
I remember as a boy watching the satellite launches from Florida. This was particularly important since the United States was in a "space race" with the Soviet Union. The Soviets scored first with the launching of the first orbiting satellite, Sputnik in 1957. Along with everyone else I watched the efforts of the Vanguard program. Many a morning featured the broadcast of a rocket that blew up on the launch pad or had to be destroyed downrange as it wandered off course. Tremendous cost and effort resulted in the successful orbiting of a grapefruit-sized satellite. The satellite program led to improvements in electronic miniaturization as it was a contest between huge Soviet rocket thrust and American electronic sophistication.
Medical results from the space program are among the most spectacular successes. The artificial heart and the insulin pump are among the results of the space program. Chemical reactions can be slowed down in zero gravity so hundreds of chemical experiments have taken place in space. Needle biopsy is more sophisticated and less invasive due ti the space program and MRI's and CAT scans with ever improving computer enhancements are taken as a given in today's hospitals. Numerous secondary diagnosis treatment facilities ring all of our major cities.
NASA which now talks about manned space travel to Mars has already improved the longevity and quality of life for thousands and often in terms of indirect but startling consequences.