Every time the budget for a shuttle mission is mentioned, somebody fumes about the need to solve problems here on Earth.

We frequently overlook the down-to-earth fringe benefits of space research. Direct benefits include satellites for weather forecasting, and global communication via phone and television.

There are numerous valuable spin-offs. The satellite programmes for atmospheric monitoring led to life-saving search and rescue technology. Satellite imagery has been used to detect major archeological sites, such as a five thousand-year-old Mesopotamian city in Iraq.

Computer enhanced imaging from the space programme led to brain scanning devices and 3 dimensional body imaging machines. Space suit technology and ergonomic seats designed for astronauts have given us everything from better running shoes to chairs for paraplegic patients. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, an important medical diagnostic technique, was developed from the remote sensing technology needed for satellites. The smoke detector in your home was first developed for use in Skylab.

Although it was thought that cell phones and satellite dishes would fuel an ever growing Nasdaq stock market, it has been the spin-offs in the form of numerous commercially viable innovations, which have fuelled the economy.

So next time you wonder about space budgets, remember, this research has had some down-to-earth benefits for all of us.