When many people think about studying space, it’s easy to think of it as the study of everything beyond the Earth. However, studying space can put research on the Earth into context, and many of the technologies that make things possible in space can also make amazing things happen back home.
Gordon Osinski, associate professor of geology at the University of Western Ontario, is not only bringing space information back to Earth, but also space technology. He partners with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), the makers on the Canadarm — the Canadian robotic arm that helped build and maintain the International Space Station.
“Designing something for space is one of the most technologically challenging things you can ever do,” says Osinski. “My research is really trying to help [MDA’s engineers] understand where they should be going next, what the new technology should be, and how we can translate that back down to Earth. There might be some instrument they have that might be useful for a mining company or a doctor here on Earth.”
This concept is already paying off. A sensitive and precise surgical robotic arm for children is just one example of this type of space technology conversion for use on Earth.
Studying our solar system is also allowing us to study rocks that are older than the ones we can find here on Earth — ones that date back to the days that life began to appear on Earth.
Another interesting application of space research is how objects from space have directly influenced our landscape, for example at crater sites that formed when they were hit by meteors. Sudbury, Ontario is a prime example of this. It’s one of the world’s biggest meteor-impact structures, and the resources we mine there came from that impact.
“Earth and planetary sciences are so broad in scope,” adds Osinkski.
“Whether it be searching for life in the solar system, in the universe, understanding the origin and evolution of life on Earth, how even the Earth formed. And planetary science in particular, is one of those fields where you can turn on a TV each day and there’s something new and exciting.”