With a project that is primarily focused on space exploration and colonization, it is hard to identify what tangible effects our project, as well as many other space exploration ventures, have on people back on Earth. We decided, with some guidance from Emily Hicks of FREDsense, to take a look at how innovation from space technology development helped impact our societies through spin-off technologies. This gave us an idea of how our own project can still be of use to those back on Earth, despite not reaping the direct rewards of a Martian colony.
Space Age Spin-Offs: An Overivew
As space exploration is furthered, innovative technologies are continually being produced in order to aid in the efficiency of space travel. These technologies can be integrated in fields beyond space sciences, introducing inventive solutions to problems faced in these fields. Examples include firefighter gear and LEDs or Light-emitting diodes. The development of firefighting gear was inspired by the lightweight materials and design included in astronaut space suits. . Light emitting diodes are inspired by a technology that works in space to grow plants, while on earth it is utilized to aid in medicine. Ultimately, investing in Spin-Off Technologies that aid in space exploration should be considered. There are arguments that put forward the question of why bother to invest in space travel? However, the unique challenges of space leads to the development of technologies which have practical applications on Earth as spin-off technologies.
Artificial Limbs: A Spin-Off Technology
Improvements in artificial limb technologies has been a byproduct of the research put into robotics and shock-absorbent materials. Continued funding into these fields of research and the unique challenges of space travel has led to the development of technologies which have benefitted prosthetics. The artificial muscle systems used to improve robotic technologies was adapted to produce functionally dynamic artificial limbs while custom-mouldable materials have functions in reducing moisture build up and friction between the prosthetic and the skin. These materials also allow limbs to be made to look more lifelike and natural. As you can see there is a precedent for technologies that are primarily rooted in space exploration, impacting people back on earth.
Other Tangible Benefits of Investing in the Space Industry
The prospect of space travel has been inspiring future generations since the first man, Neil Armstrong, set foot on the moon. A study shows that the number of students who pursue a more technical education has increased since the Apollo program was first launched in 1961. This number continued to escalate until Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon, where a sudden drop in PhDs was observed. A 2009 survey was conducted which revealed that 89 per cent of the respondents of the younger generation were inspired by space exploration to further a career in the STEM fields.
Space exploration has also widened our economic sphere. Entrepreneurs have moved passed Earth and set their sights outside of our known atmosphere. With the discovery of many invaluable resources on asteroids, and planetary satellites, humans have been searching for ways to expand their reach across the stars. These investments have enhanced our skills in troubleshooting, flexibility, and other aspects in daily life. The ability to work in a highly stressed environment has heightened our workplace environment here on Earth. Space exploration is becoming more and more relevant with each passing discovery. Both directly and indirectly, humans have largely benefitted from the developments of the space industry.
Perchlorate Contamination on Earth
Our inclusion of the Histidine tag on our synthetic G-Blocks was partly inspired by the success of various space technologies in bringing innovation and applicable solutions to issues on Earth. Like the technologies described above, our team wanted our project to not only address the issue of perchlorate in martian soil, but address possible challenges on Earth. So, with a little digging, we found that perchlorate ions have recently been identified as a localized contaminant in ground and surface waters (Jarabek et al. 2002). Ironically, rocket fuel, as well as missile and firework production, are probable sources of this perchlorate contamination. With this in mind, our team concluded that our synthesized enzyme could be a potential solution to this emerging environmental issue. In fact, a paper written by Edward Todd Urbansky, in 2002, cites that biodegradation of perchlorate, that is by microorganisms, is a likely solution to combating contamination. This knowledge gave us much confidence towards using our Cld enzyme in regards to this application.
However, genetically engineered E. coli cannot be simply introduced into water systems, or even treatment plants. Not only could our synthetic organism act as an invasive species, E. coli is in itself has certain strains which can cause various symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Even though the strain used in our project is not harmful, as you’d imagine, introducing the bacteria straight into the water system would be met with huge resistance from the scientific community and general public. In order to use our enzyme in the context of removing perchlorate from ground and surface waters, it must be extracted once synthesized. Our supervisor luckily was aware of a method to purify proteins using Ni-NTA columns. This technology is based on the affinity side amino acid chains have with immobilized metal ions such as the nickel(II) ion (Borhhorst and Falke, 2000). Based on this technology, and with a possible on-Earth application in mind, a polyhistidine tag was added to the end of our G-Block’s coding sequence in anticipation for the need to extract the enzyme from the cells.
Solid Storage of Oxygen
On a side note, our enzyme could also be used in a solid chemical storage of oxygen since Sodium Perchlorate is solid at SATP. A purified enzyme extract could hypothetically act on this on compound to produce oxygen. However, our team would need to explore the logistics of this topic, and perform future research before any more conclusion can be made.