Overcast 54° Good Morning
Overcast 54° Good Morning

Technology in moon landing found use in new products

To Phillip Cummins, designing cosmetics isn't much different from studying the cosmos. When the Estee Lauder scientist and his staff study a high-resolution image of human skin, they are using a digital technology originally developed to help land the first man on the moon 40 years ago. Researchers at the Melville skin-care giant realized in the 1980s that a system for mapping the lunar surface could be applied to the search for improved creams and sunscreens, said Cummins, Estee Lauder's executive director of materials science. "If you're looking at the colors of rocks on the moon or the color of melanin on the skin . . . the technology applies equally well to those," Cummins said. "Whether you're looking through a telescope or looking through a microscope, the technology is the same." Adapting moon mapping to makeup is just one example of the myriad ways that systems rooted in the Apollo space program eventually came back down to Earth and changed modern life. The technologies that helped Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin reach the moon spurred the development of such products as wireless headsets, freeze-dried foods, cordless vacuum cleaners and bicycle helmets. Apollo also showed that computers - once considered too big and expensive for general use - had potential for use in homes and offices, said David Mindell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I think Apollo is when people stopped bragging about how big their computers were, and started talking about how small their computers were," said Mindell, director of the school's department of science, technology and society. Mindell, author of "Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight," said computer systems before Apollo 11 were thought to be little more than "giant room-sized machines that were very large and very power-hungry." But that image changed when NASA built a worldwide computer network to maintain communication with astronauts, Mindell said. Microprocessors then gained wide acceptance when they were introduced in the 1970s, he said. "It's really the perception of computing that changed," Mindell said. "They proved that a computer could do something in the real world instead of in a data-processing center." Starting in the 1980s, Estee Lauder studied the pigmentation and contours of human skin using digital imaging analysis, a computer-enhanced mapping system first used by NASA in the 1960s to scout for suitable Apollo landing spots on the moon. Using software that gauged height and size based on shadows and other factors, NASA was able to distinguish a moon rock from a mountain. Estee Lauder researchers applied the technique to develop various skin-surface profiles and devise creams, lotions and other products designed for the subtlest variations in skin color and texture, Cummins said. For example, Estee Lauder packaging includes estimates of wrinkle reductions that might be achieved using a line of skin cream, Cummins said. "Those numbers are created using these sorts of technology," he said. Cummins credits NASA with accelerating development of digital analysis, though he thinks its use to improve cosmetics "was sort of inevitable." The merger of such dissimilar disciplines is made possible by the surprising similarities between human skin and the moon, Cummins said. "Nature has a wonderful ability [for] repeating itself on much different magnitudes of size scale," Cummins said. "When you look at a pore and you look at a crater on the moon, they're remarkably similar."

More news

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to Newsday is free for Optimum customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.