Astronomy in Everyday Life

What has Astronomy ever done for you? In this guest blog, Megan Ray Nichols explores some ways in which developments in Astronomy and space have made their way into everyday life

Astronomy is the study of space and everything that encompasses. Astronomers do not always have their heads in the clouds. They have to focus on day-to-day aspects as well. Here are some ways advances in astronomy have contributed to our daily quality of life.

You Can’t Live Without Your Phone

Your smartphone wouldn’t exist without astronomy pushing for newer, better, faster technology. It also wouldn’t work without satellites. Obviously, space exploration is responsible for both of these factors. Because the room on a spacecraft is limited, engineers have become experts at maximizing what will fit on board. And the more satellites orbiting Earth, the less likely you are to lose cell phone reception at any given point.

Never Get Lost

You’ve probably used GPS to get somewhere. GPS stands for global positioning system, which relies on — you guessed it — satellites. Mapping every aspect of the planet and updating new roads, road closures and even traffic jams — we have satellites to thank for all these amazing abilities. 

Back before the advent of GPS technology, many sailors relied on the stars to navigate at night.  This technique, known as celestial navigation, uses the science of position fixing to navigate. Astronomy influenced this navigation with the advent of the sextant. A sextant is telescope that sailors used to look at the stars while navigating. It measured the angular distance above the horizon. By knowing this, sailors were able to calculate their positions at night and travel by day based on the position of the sun.

Your Comfy Bed

If you have a memory foam mattress, shoes, bra, dog leash grip or anything else, you’re using space technology. Originally, memory foam wasn’t meant to make things comfortable. It was intended to reduce impact in the event of a crash, specifically a space shuttle crash. It was created in the ‘70s, but gained popularity later for bedding and many other household items.

Climate Study

Tracking weather patterns and storms is important, especially in places where different seasons bring severe weather. Monsoons, droughts, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes can all be life-threatening, and will probably become more common due to climate change. But even without the extreme storms, we still use satellites to track day-to-day weather patterns.

Helping the Military and Law Enforcement

During the early days of camcorders, NASA needed to enhance the video footage from nighttime recordings. They did this with the help of Intergraph Government Solutions who developed a Video Analyst System, or VAS, based on NASA’s existing Video Image Stabilization and Registration (VISAR).  Since its creation, this technology has gone on to help the FBI analyze footage and help the military during reconnaissance missions

This isn’t the only example of technology that help military personnel.  With all the technology that engineers pack into modern aircraft, it’s important that all devices function properly, which is why the military, like NASA, has high standards for their equipment. EMI, or electromagnetic interference, is something both parties need to take into account. EMI has the ability to disrupt electrical circuits and cause malfunctions of satellites and aircraft alike. When going into the atmosphere, or sending rockets into space, all variable must be considered.  

Faster Travel

A surprising amount of air travel advances have come as a result of trying to get into space. Since space shuttles have to go farther and cope with more extremes than any other type of aircraft, it makes sense for airplane engineers to adopt some of what has been learned from space exploration. For example, a way to prevent airplanes from icing at high altitudes has made travel safer and faster.

Rumble Strips

That annoying jarring you feel when you drift too far to the edge of the road is, once again, thanks to space exploration! Rumble strips were originally employed to help add traction to landing aircraft. This, in turn, reduced stopping distance and improved the pilot’s control. The strips have a lot of other uses, including adding traction to floors where cattle walk — preventing accidents from wet, slippery floors and downed cows.


Astronomy has also improved software available to screen for Alzheimer’s disease. Spain’s Elecnor Deimos created the AlzTools 3d Slicer which is used with MRIs during screening. He drew on his software development experience with the ESA’s Envisat satellite and was able to apply his knowledge in a whole new way.

Without astronomy, advances in x-ray imaging for the medical industry wouldn’t have happened. This includes many devices such as breast cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and dental x-rays. The development of the charge-coupled device, CCDs, helped reduce exposure to x-rays.  These sensors were first used in astronomy back in 1976 for capturing images. Pretty soon they began to be used in everything from medical equipment to people’s personal cameras.

Passing Science to the Masses

One of the biggest and most influential aspects of astronomy is its impact on people. Carl Sagan brought one of the first glimpses of the universe to the masses with his TV series Cosmos. Stephen Hawking also wrote several bestsellers that helped people understand how the universe works. All their work is both modern and influential. It’s helped justify the importance of funding space exploration, and it’s probably inspired more than a few scientists.

These are only a few simple advances astronomy has contributed to. However, many even larger applications have come from studying space, including advances in medicine, physics, chemistry, biology and pretty much every other major scientific discipline.

This blog post was written by Megan Ray Nichols, a Freelance Science Writer. Find her at Content in the blog post is copyright of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of the Office of Astronomy for Development.