15 years aboard ISS

It’s been 15 years since we occupied International Space Station. 220 people from 17 countries visited the station and conducted total of 1760 research investigations. In your opinion what should be the ultimate fate of ISS? Should we stop funding the station or should we extend it’s presence in Earth’s orbit? What is the best thing that came from 15 years of continous human presence in low-earth orbit?
Fraser Cain (publisher at Universetoday.com, co-host of Astronomy Cast)

I think it will always be valuable to have a permanent space station in low Earth orbit, which serves as a way station for all other exploration of the Solar System. I think that the international community should continue to extend and maintain the space station for as long as we intend reaching out to other worlds. It could be used for gathering resources, assembling spacecraft, and generally learning more about what it takes to survive in space for the long term.

The best thing was just how an international collaboration came together to build a space station of this enormous scale. Although the relationship between the US and Russia is starting to fray now, it’s still an amazing accomplishment.

Antonio Paris (Astronaut Candidate, Astronomy Professor, Planetary Scientist, Space Science Author)

There is no doubt that the International Space Station should be saved and used specifically for manned mission to Mars research. From 2007 to 2010, the European Space Agency (ESA), Russia, and China selected volunteers to take part in a 520-day simulated round-trip mission to Mars. Known as the Mars500 program, the volunteers were sealed in a mocked spacecraft in Moscow, Russia and took part in a study to investigate the psychological and medical aspects of a long-duration space mission. Although the Mars500 project provided valuable information as predicted, a manned mission to Mars will require long-term medical research under conditions of weightlessness, such as on the International Space Station (ISS). With the recent retirement of the US Space Shuttle fleet, the only viable option would be to use the (ISS) to simulate a mission to Mars.

The ISS is the most complex and largest international engineering and scientific project in history. It is over four times larger than Russia’s Mir space station and longer than a football field. The station’s primary goals are to enable long-term exploration of space, and provide benefits to all people on Earth. In addition to scientific research on space, additional projects that are not related to space exploration, but have expanded our understanding of the Earth’s environment, have been conducted. These experiments have included learning more about the long-term effects of radiation on crews, nutritional requirements levied upon astronauts during long-term missions in space, and developing newer technology that can withstand the harsh environment of space. Other experiments conducted over several expeditions on the ISS include:

  • Clinical Nutrition Assessments of Astronauts
  • Subregional Assessment of Bone Loss in the Axial Skeleton in Long-term Space Flight
  • Crewmember and Crew-Ground Interaction During International Space Station Missions
  • Effects of Altered Gravity on Spinal Cord Excitability
  • Effect of Microgravity on the Peripheral Subcutaneous Veno-Arteriolar Reflex in Humans
  • Renal Stone Risk During Spaceflight: Assessment and Countermeasure
  • Validation Effect of Prolonged Space Flight on Human Skeletal Muscle
  • Bodies In the Space Environment: Relative Contributions of Internal and External Cues to Self
  • Orientation During and After Zero Gravity Exposure

Although dozens of astronauts have been used as test subjects for physiological and psychological experiments, and preventive strategies and countermeasures have been implemented, we still do not have a lot of knowledge concerning long-term exposure to spaceflight. We can learn more about long-term exposure to a weightless environment, and how it will affect a manned mission to Mars, by simulating such a mission on the International Space Station. At a minimum, a crew can spend two years on the station to simulate the amount of time it would take to travel to Mars and back (not counting the amount of time spent on Mars waiting for point of departure). We can use the time spent on the station to continue with additional scientific and medical experiments to determine the effects of long-term exposure and, more importantly, develop additional (or better) countermeasures to ensure a successful mission to the Red Planet.


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