I am working on an alternate history where the USSR won the Moon Race (by upgrading the NK-15, starting development of the N1 earlier, and making cybernetics/computer science not a "bourgeois pseudoscience".), and as a result, there is a race to Mars between the two.

However, I noticed that any technology developed for use in space can also have spin-offs back on Earth. More specifically, the IMIS (in this timeline) was a partially reusable spacecraft, with PPM-1 being partially reusable and the craft is to be assembled in EML-2 using cryogenic chemical tugs instead of in LEO and having the PPM-1 have a cryogenic chemical engine for leaving Earth's gravitational sphere of influence.

If NASA picked an updated version of the aforementioned reusable design, what would the technological spin-offs of such an effort be back on Earth, particularly those that could benefit people?

Link to my alternate history timeline, for those interested.

Oh and link to: IMIS for further information as well.

  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon Truth be told.....the Russians DID have a Saturn V equivalent. It is called the N1 rocket. And yes, they did some lousy decisions that affected the program, but thanks to some cleverly thought out points of divergence, some of these failures are avoided and/or compensated. $\endgroup$ Apr 10 '16 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon Well, Xandar. The 21st Century USSR is not the USSR we typically think of. This was the one established under the New Union Treaty. Specifically.....this proposal under the original draft: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_of_Sovereign_States $\endgroup$ Apr 10 '16 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that changes things, and I'm not sure how much. I will delete this conversation because apparently I missed an important historical point. $\endgroup$ Apr 10 '16 at 23:17

The number one technological spin-off I can think of is carbon dioxide utilization.

The Earth has about 0.035% carbon dioxide in its atmosphere, and the Moon less than that. However, on Mars, the atmosphere is over 95% carbon dioxide. There's a lot of research into photochemical and photoelectrochemical systems for the creation of devices that take atmospheric carbon dioxide and use coupled catalytic cycles to produce oxygen and carbon monoxide.

Getting oxygen out of CO2 is useful for systems like life support, propulsion, fuel, etc.

Since we need to develop these technologies for Mars habitation, it may greatly help with many spinoff technologies here on Earth where we can reduce the levels or actually utilize it, instead of let it linger and continue to warm up the Earth through the greenhouse effect.

  • $\begingroup$ One quibble: Martian atmosphere rates as a laboratory-grade vacuum... $\endgroup$ Apr 6 '16 at 19:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It is common for laboratory-grade vacuums to be at 6*10^-9 Pascals, while the pressure at datum level on Mars is 600 Pascals. I fail to see how 10^11 times more dense rates as identical. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 '16 at 3:07

Technological spin-offs directly from that particular rocket design probably not so many for the average Joe, probably some new types of materials:

  • seals
  • rubber products
  • ceramics
  • low-weight alloys

More generally from the space race the answer space is boundless:

  • write-upside-down pens
  • advances in hydroponics
  • better solar weather science, so hardening of ground and space assets against solar flares.
  • miniaturized, modularized nuclear reactors for the mission could see commercial use

Rather than looking at a specific technology, it might be more interesting to look at the overall effect of these technologies.

The primary issue in long endurance spaceflight would be to remain self sufficient using the smallest amount of space and energy possible. A compact closed life support system would allow astronauts to survive years long missions, but on Earth it would free millions of people from centralized systems of logistics, distribution and control. In isolated places like Siberia or oil camps in the Permian basin or Alaska this technology would be rapidly adopted to allow roughnecks to work longer and more efficiently. As the technology became refined and more affordable, small towns off the grid could adopt it, or large apartment blocks in cities.

As more and more people became independent of centralized systems, the social and economic changes would become profound. Russia in particular would be destabilized as individuals, villages and farms could literally throw off the chains of government and be self sufficient. In America, it would be more subtle, as the centralizing powers of government were gradually deployed over the decades to "help" the poor and unfortunate. With millions of people in cities and towns not needing welfare or the accompanying bureaucracy to run it, the growth of government would have been restrained, especially the surge created by LBJ's "Great Society".

The vast amount of money spent in the United States on welfare and entitlements would never have been spent, and there would be far less debt dragging down America. Russian communism may well have disintegrated decades sooner, with the wall falling in the 1970's rather than the end of the 1980's.

So the social effects are going to far outweigh the direct effect of new technologies.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm slightly doubtful the poor would somehow procure closed life support systems, and I'm also not so sure of their general utility on Earth. If you live in a city with breathable air, water from the tap and food from the store, surely it's far more efficient to make use of that infrastructure than to set up a little Mars spacecraft at home. Which would probably cost millions anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Elukka
    Feb 16 '18 at 8:06
  • $\begingroup$ Not the poor, but migrating from isolated settlements to the rich and middle class. The poor might be served by this in the form of units recycling food and water in apartment blocks, as an enticement by the owners since the overall cost of living in a unit will be lower than own without. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Feb 16 '18 at 19:10

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