June 10, 2023 1:49 am

The political query of whether or not the International Space Station (ISS) was worth the funds was answered when an amendment to kill the orbiting space lab failed by 1 vote in the Home of Representatives in 1993. Ironically, the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a hero of the civil rights movement, provided the deciding vote, even although he had by no means expressed substantially interest in space policy.

Thirty years later, 1 may well ask if the science on the ISS has been worth the $one hundred billion and additional that NASA and its international partners have paid for it? Let us leave aside the diplomatic rewards that have permitted numerous nations to cooperate in space additional or significantly less in harmony. The ISS has permitted its partners to garner a vast quantity of knowledge in preserving human beings in space. With the Industrial Crew system, the space station has enabled the development of private space vehicles such as the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

NASA is certain that the science getting performed on the ISS is worthy of American tax dollars. The space agency has a webpage describing the very first 20 years of science performed on the orbiting laboratory, like 3D printing in microgravity. Experiments not only point the way to generating tools and spare components on deep space missions, but of expanding human tissue and organs, some thing that would revolutionize healthcare science and organ transplant procedures. If medical doctors can develop a heart or a kidney working with the recipient’s stem cells, sufferers would no longer have to wait for a appropriate doner or take effective antirejection drugs.

NASA also has a page that lists discoveries on the ISS that it feels straight advantage individuals on Earth. They variety from new air filtration systems that would be helpful in the age of COVID_19 to making artificial retinas to assistance the blind see once more.

All the experiments that NASA lists appear worthy to the layperson’s eye. Nevertheless, even as profligate as the federal government is at spending, the budgets that Washington passes just about every year consist of selections. Could the funds spent creating and preserving the International Space Station have been superior spent on other priorities?

The time is lengthy previous when politicians like Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) could rail on the floor of the Senate against space projects such as the shuttle and a space station proposal in favor of social applications. “I think it would be unconscionable to embark on a project of such staggering price when lots of of our citizens are malnourished, when our rivers and lakes are polluted, and when our cities and rural regions are dying. What are our values? What do we feel is additional essential?”

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) far to the left of Mondale, has confined his criticism of NASA to snarking against rocket billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

1 argument is that $one hundred billion may well have purchased a lot of other science investigation had NASA and its partners opted not to construct a space station. According to The Guardian, Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and a vehement opponent of human space flight, recommended that the science performed on the ISS has been “meager” and would superior be spent on robotic probes to other planets and orbiting space observatories. Of course, NASA has funded these sorts of projects as properly, most notably the James Webb Space Telescope and the upcoming Europa Clipper, tremendously undermining Rees’ argument.

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An try to do a price-advantage evaluation on ISS science would be rather tricky. Science investigation seldom conforms to that sort of examination when it is getting accomplished. Only just after the reality, when an entrepreneur rolls out some new solution or service, can 1 point to some thing accomplished in a laboratory as getting helped to make it take place. The most effective bet for ISS science is the technologies for 3D printing human organs for transplant sufferers. The quantity of lives that would be saved may well make the $one hundred billion spent on the ISS worth it.

The ISS makes it possible for experiments to be performed below microgravity, a high quality that can by no means be replicated in any lab on Earth. Certainly, NASA nearly invariably lists that characteristic in the pages about the science investigation performed on the space station. Microgravity investigation is a complete new region of science involving a wide variety of disciplines. Its creation tends to make the funds spent creating and preserving the ISS worth the investment.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Tough to Go Back to the Moon?” as properly as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. 

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