Humans have lived and worked non-stop aboard the International Space Station since November 2000. Much of that time was spent in assembling the engineering marvel and learning how to operate it in Earth orbit. Now that assembly is complete, science research is more of a priority than ever before.
But that doesn’t mean that some incredible science to benefit all of us hasn’t already taken place onboard the orbiting outpost during the past decade.
Thanks to space-based research on the station we’re already seeing advances in our understanding of topics as varied as health and medicine, construction techniques and climate change. Plus the space station is serving as a unique platform to inspire future generations of explorers and scientist.
Here are some examples of the remarkable success stories of science research on the space station that is already making a difference on Earth.Medicine
It seems just about everything behaves differently in the microgravity of space compared to normal gravity on Earth. Those differences give researchers keys to unlock the door to improving all sorts of medicines:
- It turns out the salmonella bacteria that causes food poisoning grows more powerful in space. Research there has revealed the controlling gene that makes that happen, so a company called AstroGenetix, Inc., is using that knowledge to pursue approval of a vaccine against salmonella.
- Research in space revealed how to produce tiny microcapsules that were very effective in delivering anti-cancer drugs. A device to produce similar capsules on Earth was recently patented and clinical trials are beginning.
Keeping astronauts healthy in space for long periods of time isn’t easy, but overcoming those challenges in space will help all of us on the ground in many different ways:
- Kidney stones, loss of bone and muscle mass, and overall cardiovascular health all are concerns for long-term, orbiting crewmembers. Successful countermeasures with drugs and therapy tried out in space can be applied to patients on the ground who face the similar health challenges.
- Astronauts designed for long journeys to a distant asteroid, or even Mars, will have to recycle as much as they can, even their own urine. Recycled water purification technology tested on the space station for this very purpose is now in use in commercial water filtration systems that can quickly be set up for use in disaster and humanitarian relief zones around the world.
As we learn more about how things work in space, we’re getting smarter about how to make things on the ground:
- By exposing a variety of materials to the harsh space environment for long periods of time outside the station, designers of future spacecraft have a better idea of what materials work best, which helps shorten development time and saves money.
- Studies of how certain fluids behave in space and react to magnetic waves has resulted in technology that may help to design buildings or bridges so they are more resistant to damage from earthquakes.
- Learn about the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module will be added to the Tranquility node in 2015
Much of the science performed onboard the space station is accomplished through partnerships with the academic community. So far this type of research has involved more than 900,000 students in the United States.
And serving as a motivational message to students at all levels, from kindergarten to high school and beyond, educational science demonstrations given by Expedition crewmembers in orbit via NASA TV and other venues have reached more than 31 million students in classrooms across the country.
For More Information
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