See the Pretty Beads?

A new chapter in the use of space opened Wednesday as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Bureau of Standards put on sale the first products made in space for commercial use. The products are tiny, perfectly spherical latex beads, each 1/2500th of an inch in diameter. They were manufactured in weightlessness for use as microscopic yardsticks in a variety of scientific and commercial tasks, such as calibrating equipment. A small vial containing 30 million of the beads costs $384; 29 of the vials were delivered to purchasers this week.

The Reagan Administration has put a heavy emphasis on the commercial use of space, encouraging and underwriting experiments aboard the shuttle in drug manufacture, crystal growth and the production of new metallic alloys. The common thread in all these endeavors is that they work better in the absence of gravity than on Earth.

So far, though, no one has demonstrated the commercial practicality of doing these things in orbit. The "made-in-space" beads, therefore, are a milestone in the effort to exploit as well as explore outer space. They should be the harbinger of things to come.

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