What's space ever done for me?

This week marks the 10th anniversary of World Space Week (4-10 October), an international celebration of science and technology, which commerates the launch of the first human-made satellite, Sputnik 1. But far from solely being a celebration of space exploration, this week recognises the space research that has led to benefits in our everyday lives that people might not know about.

UK research bodies such as the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the British National Space Centre (BNSC) are undertaking a wealth of exciting projects, which are more relevant to our lives than we presume, from predicting the weather, to stopping terrorists and even keeping you healthy.

From a health perspective, scientists at the Open University and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are currently researching how analysing someone’s spit using space exploration equipment designed for analysing samples of Martian soil and cometary ice, can help save lives. Using equipment called a mass spectrometer, a person’s mucus or phlegm, mixed with saliva, can be analysed to produce a fast and accurate diagnosis for the bacterial infection, pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). The objective is to develop a device that can be easily used in developing countries where resources are poor and needs are great, with a trial of the device being planned for Malawi.

Beyond health, some projects are helping the world's power grids to stay up and running. Some of NASA's current mission spacecraft are carrying UK-built equipment which can help determine the speed and direction of solar storms. These storms see the sun spew out hot gases across space at around a million miles an hour. They can pose a hazard for astronauts and affect communications and satellites – disrupting technologies ranging from GPS to power stations. A huge solar storm in 1989, for instance, shut down Quebec's entire power grid. The images taken from the UK-built equipment represent a major step forward in predicting the arrival of these storms at Earth, allowing us to prepare for the impact they may have.

Space science is also helping to control human-led events that could influence our lives. Gamma-ray detectors originally designed by space scientists to understand huge events deep in space, are now being used by security forces to detect radioactive materials that could be used by terrorists. Substances used by terrorists to create bombs can be radioactive. But gamma rays don't just come from man-made materials. They're emitted naturally by such things as granite, coffee, bananas and fertiliser. To detect such terrorist activity, you have to be able to tell these substances apart. The devices built at Southampton University and spin-off company, Symetrica, are sensitive enough to tell the difference between dangerous materials and other substances. They are also light enough to carry, meaning they can easily be used to scan vehicles as they pass through ports, borders and other checkpoints.

It is not just terrorism that space research is helping to stamp down on. A Mini Gamma-Ray Camera has been developed for use in Nuclear Medicine, as a spin-off from an x-ray telescope launched by NASA and supported by STFC. This low cost, high performance, hand held gamma camera is being used in the detection and imaging for concentrated, non-invasive treatment of cancer. Current procedures can require investigative surgery to assess the spread of primary tumours. The device will help to reduce the cost and trauma of surgery.

Space science is also helping to tackle environmental issues. A high resolution camera known as RALCam3 is being designed and built at an STFC laboratory to help monitor deforestation and detect illegal logging in the Amazon. The camera will be flown onboard the Brazilian government's Amazonia-1 satellite in 2012 and will be capable of producing extremely detailed images of Brazil's rainforest in the fight against deforestation, preventing this biologically valuable eco-system from being destroyed.

The UK is a world-leader in space research. Most recently further steps were taken towards the creation of a new European Space Agency (ESA) research centre in the United Kingdom. This arena is an area where we can excel with world-class research and ultimately make a really valuable contribution to the UK economy.

Tim Bestwick is Innovations Director at the Science Technology and Facilities Council, and is supporting the Science: [So what? So everything] campaign. For more information visit www.direct.gov.uk/sciencesowhat.

Suggested Topics
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Life and Style
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits