The first products manufactured in space for commercial use went on sale yesterday, good news for anyone who needs millions of microscopic latex beads.
The National Bureau of Standards said it has begun shipping vials of the beads to companies that can use them to calibrate special instruments that make or measure finely ground particles. "They will be used to improve microscopic measurements made throughout the economy in electronics, medicine and other high-technology areas," Ernest Ambler, director of the bureau, told a news briefing.
The beads, each 10 micrometers or 12500th of an inch in diameter, were made aboard the space shuttle Challenger using a chemical process developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
"This material is the first of what we expect will be a long line of products to carry a made-in-space label," said NASA Administrator James M. Beggs.
Other products of space manufacturing expected in a few months or years include new classes of pure drugs to fight disease, perfect crystals for electronic components and new alloys, Beggs said.
The bureau said it will sell about 600 units of the space beads for $384 each and will divide the proceeds with NASA. Each unit is a 5-milliliter vial containing approximately 30 million of the plastic spheres suspended in water.