Going to space gave us more than just inspiration.
Inventions from the space program include memory foam, dust-busters, micro-chips, Velcro, satellites, (try watching television without them these days!) cell phones, Teflon, several pharmaceuticals and new innovative medical treatments, vacuum tubes, hydroponics plant techniques, GPS, as well as other telecommunications, pacemakers, invisible braces, scratch resistant lenses, most of the stuff in your computer, and more than that.
Satellites alone have changed our everyday lives, bringing daily to your living room images from around the globe, and even some commercials to sell you all the other inventions. It is of interest to note that Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who brought us 2001 a Space Odyssey, is the original inventor of the satellite in what was once science fiction. He did not patent this “Science Fiction fantasy” but it became Science fact shortly thereafter.
Lesser known innovations include things like shoe insoles which were derived from Astronaut boot technology, ear thermometers, which are in wide use now, smoke detectors, and water filters. Can you even imagine all the ways in which these devices and advancements reach all of our lives? Improving water quality by filtration saves many lives daily, as does the sometimes under appreciated shrill whine of a smoke detector.
Everything in the space program, much like every thing in nature is connected. The invention, and subsequent perfection, of any new technology can be traced into interwoven threads of our society that ripple through all of our lives.
Another groovy invention that must be mentioned is safety grooving. Carving narrow tracks into roads and airport runways allows water to be diverted. This was used for take offs, and found to be so beneficial it has been adopted world wide, greatly increasing the safety of our highways, as well as our aircraft travel.
The big question is have these things benefited us? If you define “US” as Americans, we have profited immensely; bringing things to market that have paid for the space program several times over. If you are counting other nations, some have gained more than others, for example, many nations have been able to benefit from weather forecasts by satellites, avoiding deadly storms and evading the worst famines. Life saving technology helps millions, but there is of course a cost.
If one is speaking about how Planet Earth has benefited, that is a different question all together. As with everything in Science, the data is still being collected as to whether our amazing inventions will ensure our faster alignment with the laws of nature, or hasten our demise. Climate change is known about through some of the very innovations that contribute to it.
We must be careful not to give ourselves too much credit. Just as Velcro was copied through mimetics from the simple seed burr that collects upon our socks, humanity has learned to copy nature in amazing ways as we move forward. The space race was primarily a contest of bravado during an extended cold war. We all had to hold our breath to see if nuclear missile launch technology would save, or destroy, our earth. The days of Star Fleet Federation ways of co-existence are still to be realized.