The recent ramp-up by NASA as it revitalizes its commitment to the Moon, Mars and other planetary exploration initiatives is providing new opportunities for companies involved in optics and photonics.Astronomy and optics go all the way back to Galileo's telescope, and instruments including the spectrometer date back to the first days of the NASA space program.
The potential "spin-off" effects of these activities are the stuff of marketing dreams. Who among us is not delighted by the transition from room-sized valve driven mainframe computers to semiconductors? Or memory foam mattresses, infrared thermometers, freeze dried ice cream, solar cells, Bowflex exercising and water filtration recycling systems? In optics, the tracking system for LASIK eye surgery owes a debt to velocity and range imaging LADAR first used for docking spacecraft.
Unlike the outcomes of the programs leading to the first Moon mission, Mercury-Gemini-Apollo, the program here is far longer lasting and the scope is far greater. NASA's intent is not just to land on the Moon, but to develop the Moon as a launching pad where water and rocket fuel—among other things— can be mined indigenously, and space exploration to Mars and beyond can occur.
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