What have we learnt from International Space Station ?

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Every week I am in meetings where we discuss lessons learned from the ISS program.  We learn hundreds of things every week.  Many of them are mundane operational lessons – we learn how to better track inventory on the ISS or we learn how to better document instructions in a procedure.  Sometimes it is mundane technical lessons – we learn things like the anti-microbial agent put into the plumbing causes problems with the water treatment apparatus or we learn that a particular type of light bulb lasts longer or shorter in the space environment.  These lessons will simplify future missions to the moon, Mars, or beyond.

It’s a lot of these lessons learned that make me worry about Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars mission.  I know that things will go wrong and they can’t turn around or send up replacement parts.  I have to hope they build in enough redundancy to survive many failures.

The ISS is the largest peacetime international engineering project.  Before even thinking about the hardware, software, or operations, the first lessons have come from that international partnership.  People from 18 countries have come together and found ways to cooperate.  Hardware was built for this vehicle in Russia while other hardware was built in the US, and the various pieces would have to connect to each other – for the first time – in space.

Some of the things done in the design and construction of the ISS are mind-blowing.  To stand next to one of the Node modules and realize that it was carved out of a single block of aluminum is amazing.

The crew are experiments.  Flight surgeons study how space affects the crew members and we adjust our protocols based on the results.  One of the outcomes of this is that we have a much greater understanding of how to ameliorate many of the negative consequences of long duration microgravity exposure.  We have refined the exercise and nutrition regimes to the point where we have actually had a few astronauts return to Earth as strong as when they left.

We’ve learned bizarre things – like that in microgravity the shape of a man’s eye can change, altering his eyeglass prescription, sometimes permanently – but this doesn’t happen to women.

There have been about 1000 significant payload science experiments conducted on the ISS.  Innovations from these can be hard to track, because they are usually not immediate and usually come from other parties than the original payload investigator.  A payload investigator does an experiment, makes an observation and reports the results, and somewhere an engineer is inspired to apply those results to a practical use.  NASA is often not involved in what happens to the experiment data, once it is returned to the investigator on the ground.  NASA does try to compile information about some of these benefits via their Spinoff website/journal: NASA Spinoff Homepage

There is a NASA website where information about many of these experiments can be obtained:  NASA – Experiment List – Alphabetical

More information can be found via the CASIS page.  CASIS is the non-profit group that has the contract to be responsible for coordinating and scheduling research done on the ISS: CASIS Welcomes You to the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory

These experiments range from observation of how spiders behave in absence of gravitational acceleration, to plasma physics to drug cultivation to crystal growth experiments.  I read a paper recently about a crystal experiment on ISS that taught scientists a new way to compose a metal alloy that should result in lighter and stronger structures for buildings and airframes.

Courtesy : Robert Frost on Quora

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