Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

A visitor from NASA

Derrick H. Pitts, chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute, left, with Christopher J. Scolese, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Houston.

Enjoying the comfort of memory foam? Seeing better after LASIK surgery? Finding weather reports more accurate? Wearing fire-proof fabric?

Those are just four of many earth-bound benefits that have come to us as a result of space exploration, according to Christopher J. Scolese, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Houston. About 6,500 patents have been issued as a result of NASA technology, he said.

Scolese was guest speaker at the annual holiday luncheon conducted by the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce at Spring Mill Manor in Ivyland. He was introduced by Derrick H. Pitts, chief astronomer and planetarium director for the Franklin Institute.

Scolese based his talk on the words of Robert H. Goddard, considered the father of rocketry, for whom the center was named. Goddard said, "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow," and Scolese during his presentation illustrated the ways technological advances made during space exploration have translated into procedures and products that affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

The 1950s, Scolese said, marked the beginning of the Space Age and instruments put to work in space since then have provided valuable knowledge in many fields. He said NASA is invested in all 50 states.

“In Pennsylvania, we’ve worked with Penn State, Penn, the University of Pittsburgh and Villanova.

Altogether, NASA has spent $1.7 billion investing in academics. Scolese himself in a previous job, spent a lot of time working at the General Electric facility in Valley Forge. He’s been director of Goddard since 2012.

“We’ve visited all the planets,” Scolese said, “but we haven’t found anything that indicates life is out there and we basically look at the whole universe.” NASA has studied the sun, solar winds, galactic winds, solar flares that, he said, tend to disrupt electronics all over the world. Weather satellites, he said, have brought untold knowledge to weather forecasting.

In ways that are particularly valuable to agriculture, NASA can also pinpoint areas likely to be flooded, which is valuable for disaster relief as well as remediation.

“We can look inside hurricanes,” he noted. “We were able to predict correctly that Harvey would hit Houston last August and stay there for days. That ability can determine what areas to evacuate and where to place emergency workers in advance.”

He said also that firefighters now wear suits made of fire-resistant fabric that was originally developed for astronaut spacesuits.

NASA has a workforce of 17,500 along with 40,000 contractors; Goddard alone employs 3,290 and works with nearly 6,000 contractors.

Scolese said each dollar generated by NASA generates an estimated $2.60 of total economic output throughout the United States; for example, it created an economic impact of nearly $50 billion in 2014.




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