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Space-age technology seeps into everyday life
By Sun Shangwu and Su Qiang (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-10-18 06:03

Astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng ate, slept and read as comfortably aboard Shenzhou VI as they do on terra firma because of space technology.

And that same technology has relevance to everyday life in China, which is only one benefit from the space programme.

In 2003 when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) threatened the lives of hospital staff who were on the frontline in the fight against the deadly disease, the Astronaut Centre of China played a role.

It designed a special cooling waistcoat based on its spacesuit technology so that nurses and doctors wearing heavy anti-virus uniforms didn't have to be tortured by high temperatures.

And people who want to filter out more words amidst noisy conditions can thank audio technology in the spacesuit that helps them better understand a speaker.

In the parade to celebrate the 50th anniversary of National Day in 1999, communications between tank drivers and tank forces were constantly interrupted until spacesuit headphones reduced extraneous noise effectively, said Li Tanqiu, director of the spacesuit research office of the centre.

"The development of spacesuits involve nearly all technologies used for preventive and protective purpose, and these technologies will have wider use in other sectors," Li said.

Other technologies developed for space exploration are now a feature of everyday life.

Beijing-based Outlook Weekly described some examples in its latest edition:

Digital cameras: Space scientists developed digital cameras in the 1960s to transmit pictures from outer space to the earth using satellite signals. Japan's Sony Company later developed the device into a consumer product.

Satellite technology: Satellite telecommunications has provided more than 100 kinds of service to human beings to improve such areas as phone calls, data transmission, telecasts, televised education, mobile telecommunications, rescue operations and medical data sharing.

Upgraded medical appliance: The image-enhancing techniques developed by US scientists in the Apollo moon-landing programme have been used in the image processing in medical equipment such as Computer Tomography and nuclear magnetic resonance.

New materials: The special conditions of living in outer space, characterized by microgravity, a need for cleanliness and being in a vacuum, provide an ideal place for producing new materials.

Statistics show that of 1,100 kinds of new materials developed by China in recent years, 80 per cent have benefited from space technology.

Dehydrated vegetables: If you eat instant noodles, you will find a small bag of dehydrated vegetables in the package. That was produced during the Apollo moon-landing programme to enable astronauts to eat vegetables in outer space.

Space breeding: Under the influence of space rays, the genes of crop seeds carried by spacecraft were changed. As a result, some new crops with high yields will be bred.

Incomplete statistics show that more than 800 kinds of seeds have undergone in-space breeding experiments by retrievable satellites since 1987 in China.

Experiments show that these crops have made remarkable progress in producing bigger fruit containing more nutrients and with a higher ability to resist pests.

Outlook Weekly quoted Professor Han Liyan of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics as saying that every 10 yuan (US$1.23) invested in the aerospace industry has generated 80-140 yuan (US$9.87-17.30) worth of benefits.

China's direct investment in the sector has exceeded 10 billion yuan (US$1.23 billion) each year. The total scale of China's aerospace industry is now estimated at 120 billion yuan (US$14.8 billion).

(China Daily 10/18/2005 page2)

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