What is the purpose of the International Space Station?


There may be no "legitimate work" other than the self-perpetuation of the project. The astronauts' work is assembling, testing and repairing the components, but that begs the question of why these components are being pieced together some 250 miles above the earth. The International Space Station, as it is called, will be a 360-ft.-long, 460-ton ship in low orbit powered by an acre of solar panels. It will also be the most government project in human history, costing an estimated $96 billion including the $10 billion NASA has already spent for the initial design and $25 billion for the hardware, the $20 billion for shuttle launches to get the hardware into orbit and $42 billion for maintaining it. The justification for this $96 billion assemblage, as provided to Congress by NASA, is scientific research that cannot be conducted at a lower altitude.

Four types of research are cited in the mission statement (other than preparing for other space stations). They are:

1) Protein crystal studies. The stated rationale here is that more pure protein crystals may be grown in space than on Earth and that analysis of these crystals can help scientists better understand the nature of proteins, enzymes and viruses. But such experiments also could be conducted on unmanned vehicles or on the Space Shuttle.

2) Tissue culture. The stated rationale here is that living cells can be better grown in a laboratory environment in space where they are not distorted by gravity. But such cultures could be grown in a Bioreactor device on Earth that simulate the effect of reduced gravity such as the one NASA has already built. Or they could also be grown on unmanned space satellites.

3) Human anatomical studies. The rationale here is that studying the effects of reduced gravity on humans weakening muscles; changes in how the heart, arteries and veins work; and the loss of bone density will lead to a better understanding of the body's systems. But such effects could also be studied on earth by observing animals, including humanoids, in a centrifuge that simulates reduced gravity. Such data would also be available from humans aboard space shuttle flights.

4) Alloy mixing. The stated rationale here is that flames, fluids and metal burn and combine differently without gravity which might allow better mixing of metal alloys. But similar experiments could be conducted on an unmanned satellite or in a centrifuge on earth that simulates reduced gravity.

So all four scientific purposes do not require a $96 billion manned space station. The space station thus, whatever its entertainment value may be, has no unique scientific purpose. In this case, The means have become an end in themselves.


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