Memory foam, insulin monitors, freeze-dried food... it all came from space

The government is committed to stand behind our researchers and academics and will keep investing in their talents

What do solar panels, implantable heart monitors, camera phones and artificial limbs have in common? All four of them have been developed or improved upon thanks to space research. All four of them are items that are very much in use globally today and help enhance the quality of life of mankind.

This week, our minister signed a memorandum of understanding with the Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy (ISSA) within the University of Malta. Following the launch of the MALETH project a few weeks ago, this collaboration will be one of the first projects related to space research in our country. It will see, as one of the initiatives to be undertaken, a space balloon called STRATOS-1 being launched from the Maltese islands with the aim of researching the Maltese and Mediterranean stratosphere.

STRATOS-1 will return with never-before-seen aerial and space photos of the Maltese Islands and measuring devices attached to the space balloon will allow scientists to carry out important studies. ISSA has been active in the area of space research for the last decade, and is also working with the ministry to inspire young generations to look toward the heavens and perhaps get involved in space research.

When speaking of space research, the things that come to mind are aliens, planets and the solar system. What I am referring to has nothing to do with that. We are rather referring to doing our very best to exploit all resources available to us, with the ultimate goal of coming up with new solutions for the benefit of all. The potential benefits that future space research can have are endless.

The economic prosperity, the advancements in healthcare and medicine, the discovery of new materials and the continuous technological breakthroughs we have experienced in the last decades could not have happened without the ambition, imagination, ingenuity and perhaps a hint of foolhardiness of those who decided to think really far outside the box and aim high, much higher than anyone ever had before.

The track record left by space research on a European level so far is very encouraging, and that is why governments as well as private entities all around the globe keep investing money and resources in this area with increased confidence. The impressive benefits in the form of technological knowledge for innovative solutions for energy storage, power generation, advancements in recycling and waste management, and several others keep driving further research, knowledge distribution and scientific curiosity.

The discoveries space researchers come across in their efforts towards their ultimate goals or spin-offs as they are often called are endless, and they are not only very relevant to our daily lives, we have come to take them for granted. Few of us know that the memory foam in our mattresses is one of those spin-offs, as is a lot of firefighting equipment in use today, cordless appliances, freeze-dried foods, cochlear implants, insulin monitors, light-based cancer therapy, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), scratch-resistant lenses – the list is endless.

So no, space research is not something we only see in a sci-fi movie. Rather, it is absolutely relevant even for us Maltese. We might not ever experience anything directly space-related, but we are constantly reaping the benefits brought about by those who did, in our daily lives. We may not see the rewards of today’s work tomorrow, probably not even next year or the following one, but we owe it to our future generations. We owe them the effort of trying harder, looking further and reaching beyond for better solutions.

In view of this, by October 2021, our ministry will undertake a Commercialization of Space Research Competition, whereby start-ups will be encouraged to propose ideas on a space-related theme and could use these funds to pitch their idea to the European Space Agency.

As I have come to discover lately, our little island is not in a position to sit back and relax while watching the big boys play at this game of research and innovation anymore. So it happens, that we have we our very own excellent talent, scientists and researchers of great value who are actually already playing along with the big boys, collaborating with international leading entities, conducting research and making their own discoveries. We may not all be scientists and certainly not all cut out for research, but it is high time the rest of the country catches up and becomes aware of the talent and commitment of our academics. These people are doing the real work, and have no time to chase the media for hours for ten minutes of exposure.

This government has finally dedicated a ministry to research and innovation, and that is one major step in the right direction. The government is committed to stand behind our researchers and academics and will keep investing in their talents. Their efforts cannot keep going unnoticed and we firmly believe in the invaluable contribution they are making to our society.