Space Station

The International Space Station as seen from the next to last Shuttle mission in May 2011.

The International Space Station is the only place where science, technology and human innovation can demonstrate new technologies and make research breakthroughs in a zero gravity environment.

It orbits the Earth every 90-plus minutes at a speed of 17,100 mph, and is occupied by up to six multi-national crew members. ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, following the Russian Salyut, Almaz, and Mir stations as well as the United States’ Skylab. The first module was launched in 1998, and although the station is essentially complete, addition of new modules is ongoing.

ISS is larger than a six-bedroom house, and is the biggest man-made satellite. Most of the heavy lifting of modules was done by the Space Shuttle. There have been more than a thousand hours of spacewalks and more than 115 spaceflights on five different types of launch vehicles involved in its building. It weighs almost one million pounds and measures 357 feet end-to-end. Its 55-foot robotic arm is capable of lifting 110 tons. The huge array of solar cells provides enough electricity to power 90 three-bedroom houses. Fifty-two computers control thousands of systems.

The station consists of two main sections; the Russian Segment and the United States Segment, the latter being utilized by many countries.

More than an acre of solar arrays make it the next brightest object in the night sky after the moon. A telescope or binoculars is not required to see it move across the sky. You can get a text message or email to let you know when (and where) to look. Go to spotthestation.nasa.gov.

The ISS has been continuously occupied since November, 2000. Since then, more than 200 astronauts from 15 countries have visited. Due to the end of the Shuttle Program in 2011, crews to and from the ISS have been flown exclusively using the Russians’ Soyuz Spacecraft. NASA plans to have manned missions to the ISS by 2017. Cargo and re-supply flights mainly utilize the Russians’ Progress and the American’s Space-X Dragon and Cygnus Spacecraft.

“Some 250 miles overhead, astronauts are conducting critical research, not possible on Earth, which makes tremendous advances in our lives while helping to expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

Station research has resulted in medical advances, such as devices that can help asthma sufferers. Also, ISS crews have developed sensor systems that greatly improve our ability to monitor the Earth and its weather, and to respond to natural hazards and catastrophes.

Onboard, the crew conducts experiments and research in many disciplines to advance scientific knowledge for the benefit of humankind. Space scientists are researching effective drugs that could improve the lives of patients and are also developing exotic materials for use in a variety of applications.

The ISS is the stepping stone to NASA’s quest for exploration, enabling research and technology developments that will benefit all people. Robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and the planets is enabled by this research.

The ISS provides students on Earth an opportunity to run experiments and make educational demonstrations. This allows their participation in classroom versions of station experiments, and engages students using radio, video link, social media and email. There are many free teaching materials that can be downloaded for use in classrooms.

To date, 83 countries have taken part in more than 1,700 experiments and educational efforts on this world-class laboratory in space. It is the model for global cooperation, one that enables a multinational partnership and advances shared goals in space exploration.

“Technologies developed for the assembly and maintenance of the station are helping to save lives here on Earth,” said Nicole Buckley, Chief Scientist, Canadian Space Agency. “The Canadian robotics system that helped build and now operates on the International Space Station has led to tools that give doctors new ways to detect cancer, operate on sick children, and perform neurosurgery on patients once considered to be inoperable.”

Presently, there are three crew members on board the ISS, including Astronaut Scott Kelly from the United States and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. These two plan to spend a year in space in an effort to determine if long term exposure to microgravity and space radiation has a major effect on humans. This research is necessary to demonstrate if manned flights to Mars and beyond would be feasible.

Those who would like to ask me questions about any other science topic may e-mail inquiries to lynn@thesylvaherald.com.

Marcus Goodkind of Tuckasegee, a retired aerospace engineer, worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a manager at Kennedy Space Center on all the manned programs from Mercury to Shuttle, including Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing.