From Rocket Science to Firefighting: Why We Should Continue to Fund Science

The left image on the top is the vortex combustion technology, developed by Orbital Technologies Corporation and NASA. In that technology, rocket fuel is fed into the combustion chamber in such a way to create a swirling vortex flow that improves the rocket engine's durability.

So, what does rocket science has got to do with improving life on Earth? Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy pointed out in his post "THIS is why we invest in science. This.", things we learn in science can have real-life applications that are quite unexpected.

In this case, knowledge from the rocket propulsion system let engineers develop a new firefighting system:

One series of tests using empty houses at Vandenberg Air Force Base compared an HMA system with a 20-gallon-per-minute, 1,400 pound-per-square-inch (psi) discharge capability (at the pump) versus a standard 100-gallon-per-minute, 125 psi standard hand line—the kind that typically takes a few firemen to control.

The standard line extinguished a set fire in a living room in 1 minute and 45 seconds using 220 gallons of water. The HMA system extinguished an identical fire in 17.3 seconds using 13.6 gallons—with a hose requiring only one person to manage.

Phil argues:

In other words, this new system put out a fire more quickly, using less water, and — critically — with fewer firefighters needed to operate the hose. This frees up needed firefighters to do other important tasks on the job, and therefore makes fighting fires faster and safer.

There is no way you could’ve predicted beforehand that investing in NASA would have led to the creation of this specific innovation in life-saving technology. But it’s a rock-solid guarantee that investing in science always leads to innovations that have far-ranging and critical benefits to our lives.

If for no other reason that’s why we need to invest in science: in NASA, in NSF, in NOAA, and all the other agencies that explore the world around us. It’s for our own good. And it always pays off.

Plus, you've got to admit, Space Shuttle launches are amazing!

Link | High-Pressure System Suppresses Fire in Seconds by NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist


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I'm actually ok with us getting rid of the shuttle program. At this point, all it mostly does is take people/equipment to the international space station. I'm just not as interested in the human exploration of space than say, robotic probes(who can do more science in space cheaply and more safely than any human being), or the James Webb space telescope, for example. Sending people to space is costly and most times impractical, and a lot of the most interesting things going on at NASA right now involve science that that we don't need the shuttle for(discovery of earth-like planets, the nature of black holes, dark matter, etc). Why not let private companies take over getting payloads out of low-earth orbit and let NASA spend money on actual science? That isn't to say that the shuttle program wasn't important or that science funding in general isn't imperative, I just think the shuttle has served its purpose and it's time to move on to bigger and better things.
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It's always nice to see unarguable benefits emerge from what some people see as pointless research.

Although, I wouldn't hope to see the shuttle back in service even if we threw billions at NASA. Which is too bad for spectators because shuttle launches were certainly brilliant to watch, but it doesn't seem to be worth the effort (and money).

But I would really like to see manned space exploration back on the agenda of NASA. Sure, the current scientific missions are important, but they're not really as inspiring as putting people on Mars.

Why go there? Well, does that matter? People have given several reasons to go to Mars, but I don't think we really even need one. It's just an objective, which will require technological innovation to attain, which in turn will be beneficial to everyone.
It's just a good investment.
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From what I see, we should defund lots of other things and pump more into science and research. The rest of the world has slipped past us, we're hemorrhaging, and it's our only chance left.

As for manned space flight, it's such a tiny amount of money in the bigger picture, especially when you consider how much of our tax money is outright wasted, that cutting it is basically just a slap in the face. It's like they are saying, "We'll cancel hope that costs 3¢ and continue to waste 54¢ just to spite you all."
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