Innovations in the Space Race

image…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish…
– President John F. Kennedy, "Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs," May 25, 1961

Browsing Youtube tonight, I found a charming little animation by Jeff Steers. It is a brief video that was posted in August this year, about the space race. The video concludes that the real winner of the space race was science. This made me do some research.

TIME - Race for the moonTo start with the background, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite and, with it, the international space race. In 1958, U.S. President Eise­n­hower signed the Space Act, officially creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

On April 29, 1961 Werner von Braun, rocket scientist and chief engineer of the space program, wrote the letter below to the president of the United States, and then one month later Kennedy made his famous commitment.


President Kennedy´s vision of landing a man on the moon ignited inventors across the American continent, and in a time of high economic growth promising research programs could quickly be funded.

From the beginning, the purpose of NASA extended beyond space ships and space suits. The law stipulated that its research and advancements should benefit all people, and in its 50-year history, NASA and its suppliers has certainly fulfilled that role, bringing huge numbers of innovations to the market ever since.

The United States and the Soviet Union rushed to declare dominance of space for 18 years, until the two countries agreed to a more collaborative model. The real winner was Science. Below is the brief video by Jeff Sterns.

Who won the space race?–Jeff Steers

Today, everyone on Earth comes in contact with a NASA by-product every day. Partnering with various research teams and companies, NASA spawned a vast array of new technologies and products that have improved our daily lives, such as basic steps in health, safety, communications and even casual entertainment find their ro­ots in the US government branch commonly associated with rocket ships and floating people. According to NASA, consumer innovations from space race research includes:

  • Kidney dialysis machines
  • Computer-Aided Tomography (CAT) scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Freeze-dried food
  • Cordless power tools and appliances
  • Disposable diapers
  • Rotary blood pump
  • Fibre optics
  • Satellite dish and GPS satellite navigation systems
  • Bar codes
  • Ear thermometer
  • Fire-resistant fabrics
  • Smoke detector
  • Thermal gloves and boots
  • Efficient clean water filters
  • Memory foam

Space shuttle taking offIn the bold and well funded space program of the 1960s and 1970s, creative ideas, fundamental discoveries, and novel inventions brought by NASA achieved innovations that are everyday products now.

Such innovations bring increased productivity and tangible values, including job creation, higher pay, better educated workers, a rising standard of living and sustainable development. However in the current decade we live in a new era of economic reality.

The willingness to take risks and a longer-term view has disappeared from most Western institutions. Large corporations, driven by quarterly earnings, have almost completely shuttered their basic, longer-term research programs.

While NASA has much less funding than it used to and United States struggles to figure out what vehicle will replace the space shuttle, China is racing ahead to build its first space station. It will be a potential jumping off point for deeper space missions and a new centre for scientific research. Meanwhile Americans are dependent on other countries for access to the current international space station.

As the United States struggles with debt and calls for austerity, China is abundant with cash, has growing technological knowledge and has the will to move forward with space exploration. It remains to be seen if China can advance innovations to the same extent the US could in the previous decades.

It may not be much of an international race anymore, but was there ever a race the first time? The Soviet Union was to a large extent an imaginary foe and I think it was the bold vision, the belief in the future and the competitive environment within the United States that brought NASA´s achievements.

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