Essay, Research Paper: International Space Station


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The International Space Station is the doorway to the future of mankind and the
world as it is known. The scientific and medical discoveries that will be made
on the station could create billions of dollars annually. A plan like this,
arranged to benefit the whole world economy, should sound like a good idea to
every person, but some believe that the ISS is too risky, too ineffective, or
too costly to create. Whether or not the space station is worth the money, time,
and effort, one thing is clear, everyone is interested in this virtual floating
laboratory and what assets or liabilities it will bring. The future of
scientific experimentation and exploration may be located, not on earth, but on
the man made island called the International Space Station. Of all the factors
that go into building a space station, construction of the massive object is the
most tedious objective. During the building of the ISS, tensions have run high
several times when deadlines were missed or funds were not available. This space
station is the most expansive mission the world has ever encountered. The
International Space Station will be a fifteen country mission. When finished, it
will boast over an acre of solar panels for heating and energy, have a volume
roughly sizable to two jumbo jets, and contain four times the electrical power
of the Russian space station, Mir. It will take approximately forty-five flights
over the next five years to assemble the one hundred pieces of the station while
circling the orbit of the earth (Goldin 11). This floating station, the size of
a large football stadium, which is traveling at over 17,500 miles per hour
around the earth, will have a minimum life expectancy of only ten years,
although scientists hope for a much longer time. The station is so large that it
will sometimes be visible by the naked eye during the night (Chang 12). Many
people agree with the idea of some sort of space laboratory, but wonder why it
has to cost so many tax dollars. Some estimates for the station confirm that the
cost has been underestimated by billions of dollars. Late last year Boeing beat
out several other competitors for the prestigious position of main contractor.
NASA agreed to sign a 5.6 billion dollar contract with Boeing to build many of
the essential parts of the space station. Russia is also placing trust in this
airplane superpower. They signed a 180 million dollar contract to build the
Functional Cargo Block, the unit that will provide power to stabilize the
station (Bizony 87). The International Space Station may provide many scientific
discoveries, but everyone will pay for it. This project will become the most
expensive project in space since the 1969 mission of Apollo 13 to the moon. The
total estimated cost will be over twenty billion dollars (8). On the
International Space Station, there will be a large variety of experiments
ranging from improvements of industry to medical advances. The largest portion
of time will be devoted to scientific experimentation and discovery. The ISS
will create advances that will assist scientists to better understand the
mysteries of the physical, chemical, and biological world. Without gravity they
may conceive the technological discoveries that will boost all economies (Goldin
11). One thing the astronauts will use in their pursuit of knowledge is remote
telescience. It is an advanced technology that allows scientists on the ground
to monitor the progress of the experiments on the station. This will keep people
on Earth up to date on the data collection that is occurring in space.
Telescience will use interactive data and video links to make the connection as
realistic as possible (“Science Facilities” 7). The populous sometimes asks
what the station will do scientifically. The International Space Station will
try to answer questions that have bothered deep thinkers for years. The affect
of no gravity on living things, any mental and physical affect on humans in
space, and the growth of better materials in space that will create better
products on Earth will all be explored in hopes of becoming better understood.
Hopefully, scientists will be able to answer these questions and many more on
the International Space Station (Chang 12). NASA has confirmed that microgravity,
the almost weightless condition of space, is one of the largest factors in the
experiments that will occur aboard the International Space Station. The affects
of gravity and microgravity on animals, plants, cells, and microorganisms will
be studied on the station. Artificial gravity can be adapted from 0.01 G, almost
entirely weightless, to 2G, twice the earth’s gravity, to fit the experiment
(Science Facilities 1). Gravitational biology is a major research topic dealing
with microgravity. It is the study of gravity’s influence on living things
such as plants and animals. This will help astronauts conclude definitely what
will happen to humans on long trips and stays on Mars (6). The Optical Window is
a special window that will monitor natural events with cameras, sensors, and
other devices. The window will be able to track such disasters as oil spills,
hurricanes, and forest fires (3). “The ISS is our best effort to date to
provide a laboratory environment where combustion can be fully understood.”
Combustion will help to better understand air pollution, global environmental
heating, propulsion, and hazardous waste incineration (Industrial Processes 3).
The new experiments on combustion could save the United States millions of
dollars annually because it controls the heating of homes, powering of cars, and
the production of a large range of synthetic materials (4). Real combustion
cannot take place on Earth. So combustion will be studied in space. On the
ground gravity feeds flames with oxygen and takes away heat. The space
station’s combustion facility will do research on gas, liquid, and solid fuels
which already yields eighty-five percent of the world’s energy production
(Science Facilities 4). Combustion is the release of chemical energy. Combustion
research on the station will lead to less pollution in the industries and the
production of advanced materials which will have very large payoffs for the
economy (2). Since the computer age began, microchips have become smaller and
more efficient every year. On the International Space Station, The multinational
crew will spend one half of its time working on science. Many experiments will
deal with improving the microchip and the silicon that makes it up (DiChristina
77). Finding cures for many medical problems is one hope for the space station.
One of the most important missions of the station will be to search for cures to
earthly diseases. The International Space Station will provide information that
might lead to cures for AIDS, Cancer, Diabetes, Emphysema, and Osteoporosis
(Lawler 50). Scientists will find this mission an ideal spot to study the human
biology without the restraints of gravity. A cure for Cancer might be found in
space. In orbit, Cancer cells grow in solid clumps because gravity does not
flatten them. Therefore the space station will be the best effort yet to search
for treatments because they can be studied three dimensionally (Bizony 120).
Some think that protein crystals are the answer to many cures. They are
associated with every disease on Earth. If they can be understood deadly
diseases may be curable (DiChristina 77). Aging has always been a large concern
for many people on Earth. Soon that may not be as large of a problem. Research
from previous shuttle missions and Mir have shown that some of the processes
that occur in a person when they get older are the same processes that also
affect the astronauts on a mission in space. Problems such as weakening of the
heart, muscles, and bones, disturbed sleep patterns, abnormal immune system, and
problems balancing affect both groups the same ways. Therefore, some aspects of
aging may be curable if scientists can find a connection between the two (“Our
health” 1). NASA is trying to learn more about the affects of weightlessness
on their astronauts during long missions. They plan to use the International
Space Station as one means to do so. On the space station, scientists will
discover ways to predict the effects of weightlessness on travelers to Mars (7).
It has already been 1earned that living in space for any extended period of time
is not good on a person’s health. Scientists plan to explore why and will
study the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body and mind (Bizony
113). Developers working for NASA are creating some of the most technologically
advanced machines ever made which are specially formulated for experimentation
on the International Space Station. It would be very hazardous and not practical
for NASA to return an ill or hurt member of the station back to the United
States. Therefore, NASA is improving computer systems that will be able to
diagnose and help treat any injury that may occur while on the station. These
machines, along with medically trained astronauts, will create a very small need
for return missions to Earth due to health considerations (“Our health” 3).
To deliver the best medicine possible, the space station will be equipped with
virtual reality and medical monitoring systems like those found in hospitals.
Cyber surgery, a type of virtual reality, will be used in the extreme cases of a
medical emergency (4). The human body will be thoroughly studied while in space
to conclude if there are any long term affects on the body during space travel.
The experiments will be broken into three basic categories: bones, tissues, and
cells. The space station will have a special laboratory called the Bioreactor
which will reproduce human tissues and cells. The Bioreactor will be able to
create Cancerous cell tissue called tumors from a few individual cancer cells.
Some think that while in space, the space station will find healthier
alternatives to a cure for Cancer other than the very harmful chemotherapy.
Scientists plan to make healthy tissue outside the body in a space laboratory
and then transfer the tissue into a body with damaged tissue. This is possible
because in space cells are not crushed by the pressure of gravity. They grow
three dimensionally like those which occur naturally in the body (“Our
health” 5). Besides cures for cancer, how to fight bone loss will be
considered. Bone loss is one of the major reasons astronauts cannot stay in
space for extended periods of time. Once bone loss can be controlled, NASA will
be capable of bringing all men and women back in perfect health (Chang 13). I
view the space shuttle program as a stepping stone to the ultimate program that
will guarantee prolonged efforts in microgravity... Ultimately our hope is to be
able to crystallize proteins in microgravity, conduct all x-ray data collection
experiments in space and transmit the data to Earth for processing. This can
only be done in a space station (Our health 9). One of the reasons the
International Space Station is so important is because it offers the chance for
experiments to be done at all times during the year instead of making scientists
wait for weeks, months, or even years to get their experiments tested. The space
station will mean that industry will become more involved in the space research
which will benefit both areas into the future (6). On the space station, real
industrial improvement will be a reality. Semiconductors have already been grown
that are of a record quality. They have all been created as a thin film by the
Wakeshield Facility. It creates a vacuum larger than one ever created on Earth.
This leads to improvements in the computer industry. The improvements could mean
billions of dollars for industry (Industrial processes 7). Oil refinement
provides the United States will over 90 billion dollars revenue annually.
Zeolights, which are used in the refinement process of petroleum products, are
being enhanced dramatically in space. This could create a 400 million dollar
increase in the United States economy (7). All industry will be effected because
space does not have the limitations of Earth. Due to microgravity, crystal
production is not hindered. Ergo, scientists can concentrate on the phenomenon
of solidification, crystal growth, fluid flow, and combustion like they have
never been able to before which translates into large profits for all countries
involved in construction and care of the International Space Station (8).
Microgravity is very unique. It will be the factor that affects and inspires the
production of many of the products that have not even been dreamed of yet by
inventors and scientists. By delving into the practical uses of microgravity, it
is easy to see that many new alloys, ceramics, glasses, polymers, and
semiconductors can be improved, redesigned, or created (Industrial Processes 1).
When viewing the whole spectrum of the space station, many scientists have
agreed that microgravity is the most important factor. It could create
treatments for previously incurable diseases, better materials and alloys for
industry, and more efficient forms of fuel and petroleum products. Microgravity
is an important factor because compared to the gravity on earth, space has
one-millionth the force pressing down on objects. This accounts for the
willingness of people to spend billions of dollar on experiments that can only
be performed in one place, the International Space Station (DiChristina 77).
Besides increasing the worth of the economy, the International Space Station
will also help earth science research. The Optical Window will help study the
daily buildup and positions of the clouds. This may help to predict droughts and
therefore prepare vegetation. Also available will be key information about our
atmosphere. To test in the greatest detail some of the fundamental laws that
govern our physical world, it is often necessary to go beyond the surface of the
Earth...Thus, NASA and its academic, industrial, and international partners will
use the microgravity environment of the ISS to conduct fundamental scientific
studies that have as their goal to contribute to the world’s supply of
knowledge, which will one day enable the technology of future generations
(Fundamental Knowledge 6) Many people consider the International Space Station a
excellent chance for improvement of medical, technological, and industrial
processes, but there are a few skeptics who are unsure of any benefit at all.
These people have questioned the purposes and objectives of the scientists who
believe it is a service. Many state that there is no substantial evidence to
prove that the International Space Station will fulfill any of the aspirations
people have pressed upon it. Others point to the fact that it may only be able
to remain in space for ten years which is not long enough to do anything that is
very conclusive. Still, others contend that the International Space Station is a
small price to pay for the usefulness it will provide in the future. The mixed
reviews have left nothing but confusion in their path. No matter what anyone
says or thinks, only time will tell. Since the Cold War, Russia has fallen from
the status of superpower, and its space program has become almost non-existent.
Since Russia first joined the International Space Station team, the Russians
have been continually behind schedule but always promising the job is almost
finished. They have frequently run out of funds which had to be given to them by
the United States and other partners, and several times they threatened to drop
out of the project all together. Russia is only the United States’ first
problem. Although it is called the International Space Station and is considered
a multinational project, it is obvious that United States dollars are supporting
most of the sagging project (89). The cost is one of the most debated topics on
the subject. Once having a price as low as eight to fifteen billion dollars, the
cost has since skyrocketed to the exorbitant amount of over 96 billion dollars
by the end of the project in 2006. “The International Space Station is already
over a decade late, and the price is soaring into the billions of dollars over
the original price tag. Some are beginning to wonder if the International Space
Station is a floating white elephant.” Boeing admitted it has underestimated
the potential cost by as much as 800 million dollars just for its contract alone
(88). On the other hand, some people believe it is worth the price. For nine
dollars less than the average American pays for snack or “junk” food yearly,
NASA can build the International Space Station which could become a scientific
pinnacle from which the benefits would be felt for years (Abatemarco 9). Some
critics wonder whether any scientific progress that the space station will make
will create a high enough profit to make up for the gigantic cost of the
station. Some scientists are concerned that the space station will have no
redeeming qualities whatsoever. “Most of the functions of the space station
have disappeared.” “NASA is mortgaging its future for the next twenty
years” (Kluger 90). Some even disagree on whether microgravity is a valid
determinant. Not everyone thinks that research on microgravity will be the least
beneficial. Some say that it is “one of the least important factors you can
have” (DiChristina 76). In the end it is debatable whether the International
Space Station will give us enough scientific information to make the planning,
cost, and maintenance worthwhile. One of the main topic to be researched,
protein crystals are fragile and with a single bump, which happens a lot in
space, the project is ruined (Kluger 91). There is no information of yet that is
going to tell anyone the outcome of the experiments on the International Space
Station. It is a complex machine that may create fantastic results or become a
large waste of time and effort, but until the world tries, it will never know
which might be the most disappointing thing of all. For now, all anyone has is
hope for a brighter future, and the chance that the International Space Station
may bring them a step closer to that reality. “The orbiting laboratory serves
as a symbol of our future. A future that embodies the dreams of our children and
that promises untold discoveries for the next millennium. One that fulfills our
innate human nature to explore. And one that benefits all people of all
nations.” (Goldin 11) The International Space Station is the beginning. It is
the beginning of a world that is working towards a better understanding of
everything around it.
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