Space: Still the Final Frontier


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If this doesn’t make you feel like a “seasoned citizen,” I don’t know what will: Star Trek first aired 50 years ago, on Sept. 8, 1966. What were you doing at the time? I was probably trying to avoid eating my peas. But I loved Star Trek; I thought it was a live TV show that followed a spacecraft.

No one—not even the actors—thought the show would last, and it only ran for three seasons, drawing average ratings. But Captain Kirk and company are more popular than ever on their Golden Anniversary. Star Trek tapped into our primal need to know more about our universe.

Much has changed since 1966. Fifty years ago, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War, fighting a proxy war in Vietnam and racing to get the first man on the moon. But later the U.S. partnered with Russia on numerous space missions. I guess you could call our two countries “frenemies” now, which might be the best-case scenario.

Most of the world has abandoned their space programs. But the U.S. plans to keep exploring the “final frontier,” even as NASA adjusts to budgetary restraints. NASA is indeed tightening its belt; the agency’s $19 billion budget request for the fiscal year 2017 is $300 million lower than the previous year’s enacted budget.

That figure still amounts to only about half of 1% of the total U.S. budget. It’s difficult to put a dollar figure on the benefits of a space program. Just looking at it from an educational standpoint, I wonder how many young people decided to get a degree in one of the STEM disciplines after following the Mars Rover’s progress on NASA’s interactive website?

In our own industry, one segment that’s evolved in the past 50 years is flexible circuitry. Not too long ago, flex was considered too expensive for most applications. When I first started covering PCB design in 1999, I kept hearing, “Well, flex is cool, but it’s just too expensive for us. You don’t see flex in many consumer products, except digital cameras and printers.”

Now, most PCB design tools include flex design functionality. And flex has turned out to be the perfect circuitry for space applications. It withstands harsh environments, extreme temperatures, and shock, and flex can last a long time.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the September 2016 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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