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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

NASA plans to show you how space program helps you live

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

When Neil Armstrong planted a boot on the moon in 1969 and uttered, "This is ... one giant leap for mankind," he didn't know the half of it.

The shuttle and other space programs brought you Teflon, Velcro, GPS and better golf balls.

Window of the Earth

Armstrong may have been referring to the age-old human quest to explore the heavens, but three decades later, it's barely possible to make it through an ordinary day without experiencing the Earthbound effects of the space program.

Fry an egg in a Teflon-coated pan, fasten your fanny pack with Velcro straps, unwrap a piece of candy twisted into Mylar foil, and you're a beneficiary of the most famous footprint in the solar system.

Global Positioning Systems, zero-gravity ballpoint pens that write upside down, golf balls that travel straighter and farther, radiation-blocking sunglasses lenses with a scratch-resistant coating: They all grew out of a need for astronauts to function in a hostile, weightless environment.

The list of space-age spin-off products is almost endless, says Connie Sartor, a NASA spokeswoman, who will travel with the agency's "Benefits of Space" exhibit, a feature attraction at the 2001 First Hawaiian International Auto Show beginning tomorrow at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

"We will have smoke detectors, diapers, quartz watches and space shuttle heat shield tiles," said Sartor, speaking of the dozens of space spin-offs she'll bring along. "It is really a lot of things that people will recognize as everyday objects."

But wait – astronauts wear diapers?

 •  NASA 'Benefits of Space' exhibit at the 2001 First Hawaiian International Auto Show

10 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.

Hawai'i Convention Center.

$6 general, with discounts for seniors, military and children 7 to 12. Free for children under 7.


"Yes they do," said Sartor. "When they are outside of the spacecraft in their spacesuits, they sometimes have a problem on those long space walks. There's an absorbent material in the diaper that has a wicking system. It absorbs 120 times its weight in liquid, and it pulls the moisture away from the body."

It didn't take moms everywhere much time to realize the bottom-line advantages of that sort of invention. Thus, absorbent, disposable diapers were born.

Or, consider power tools. Back in the 1960s, when NASA was planning its journey to the moon and knew it would need to drill for lunar core samples, the agency couldn't find a power cord 220,000 miles long.

NASA asked Black & Decker to see if it could develop a drill that didn't need a cord. This research not only led to the Dustbuster and all of its cordless cousins, but whole systems of motors that function efficiently on minimal power, and rechargeable battery packs to keep them spinning.

Medical science has been a major beneficiary, utilizing NASA-inspired technologies that have led from CAT scans and advanced pacemakers, to laser surgery and infrared thermometers.

The 10-by-20-foot "Benefits of Space" exhibit is a forerunner of NASA's traveling exhibit that tours the Mainland.

The one at the auto show is the more hands-on of the two, said Sartor. The exhibit has a podium where she and colleagues can greet visitors and answer questions. Next to the podium, a video plays continually, explaining how everyday products use space technology.

"We set up two 8-foot tables to put the products on," said Sartor. "We don't sell anything. But we will have some giveaways. While they last, we'll have toy space shuttles, antennae balls, NASA patches and little gold shuttle pins."

Also on display: astronaut chow. It's a real crowd-pleaser, says Sartor, as long as nobody has to eat it. "People like to look at the shrimp cocktail and go, 'Yeeew, yuck!' because it looks like brains, or something."