Taking Nanotechnology Into Outer Space
Nanotechnology's promise in a wide range of fields—health, energy, computing, materials science, electronics, and more—could be used to revolutionize space exploration. NASA is constantly investigating technologies with potential applications in spacecraft and related equipment. One ongoing project is the development of lighter, stronger, more durable materials. Carbon nanotubes, with their light weight and great strength, could have many uses, from structural composites to wiring.
Miniaturization made possible by nanotechnology will lead to smaller, more powerful instruments. Nanosensors could monitor equipment for any malfunctions, and nanotechnology could be used for the creation of self-repairing materials. Miniature spacecraft could be deployed and controlled from a shuttle or space station, reducing the need for astronauts to undertake space walks for routine observations. For unmanned missions, nanotechnology could be used in probes and rovers designed for planetary exploration.
Applications of nanotechnology could greatly improve the safety of space exploration. Nanomaterials would make space suits safer and more functional. The lab-on-a-chip and other medical advances would allow the diagnosis and treatment of health problems in space. Advanced fuel cells and solar cells could be used for energy requirements, even as nanotechnology made equipment more energy-efficient. This would be of vital importance on longer manned missions, like a trip to Mars.
Nanotechnology may someday bring about a dream long held by space enthusiasts: an elevator that could provide a new means of putting people and goods into space. A tower located on the equator would tether a cable structure—the tracks for the elevator—to Earth. The elevator would be connected to a satellite in geostationary orbit, meaning it would always remain directly above the same location on Earth. Nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes would be used in the cables and other structural components.
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