What Has Space Flight Done For Us Lately?

The tragic break up of Columbia has some questioning whether space travel is truly worth the risk, but aspiring scientists hope NASA naysayers will reconsider.

Those in the scientific world say the work of space explorers is often invisible to those of us on Earth, but their discoveries are everywhere we look.

JoAnna Swain (21) is the next generation of NASA scientists, at least she hopes to be. The U.T. Tyler Denior and her Engineering professor, Dr. Robert Greendyke, are working on carbon nanotubes--a type of technology that could help NASA make stronger space craft using cheaper lighter weight materials. Neither teacher nor student is deterred by the Columbia tragedy.

"If we don't send the people up and we don't do the experiments, we could be missing out on something that could be a life changing experience," says Swain.

Dr. Greendyke sees the passion of students who want their chance to participate in the space program.

"I think there's still a definite passion there," says Greendyke. "We have one student who particularly wants to be an astronaut. I asked him if he still wanted to be after the tragedy. He said, 'Sure.'"

And those willing to carry weighty ideas into zero gravity have already changed history as we know it. NASA exploration is responsible for cell phone technology, scratch resistant glasses, blood pressure testing, velcro, video game joysticks, invisible braces, even better quality firefighter suits.

New medical techniques are also a big part of what they do in space, according to Greendyke. "Cat scans are a direct outgrowth of satellite imaging technology," he says.

Columbia crew members spent their time in space, studying prostate cancer, earthquakes, even a weak flame that could help scientists develop an engine that emits fewer pollutants.

Those, like Swain, who carry the same ambitions believe the best tribute we can give is to move on with space exploration.

"If we want to enjoy the benefits of society as we know it, we have to pay for that," says Dr. Greendyke. "And that involves continued funding for these activities."

Many other inventions were spun off from the space program, including video game joysticks, bar-coding on products, TV satellite dishes, ear thermometers and invisible braces.