Author Topic: WIRED: Why the International Space Station Is the Single Best Thing Humanity Did  (Read 964 times)

Online Coastal Ron

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An article on Wired:

Why the International Space Station Is the Single Best Thing Humanity Did | WIRED

The article is "content lite", but it expresses a view that I hold so I thought it might be worthy. From the article:

Few of us give a thought to the International Space Station, even though, when the future measures our collective contribution to humanity, the ISS will prove the single best thing we did. Less than a century after the Model T was state of the art, we manufactured a kind of galleon in space and have sent men and women from 10 countries to live in it, along with a host of short-term visitors, without recess or mutiny or fatality, for nearly 20 years.

I hear the view "we're stuck in LEO" from time to time, and it makes me wonder if the people that say that understand how much science we NEED to do before we send humans beyond LEO for long periods of time. And we're not quite ready to do that as experiments on the ISS show us - which we would have to find out in more expensive ways if we didn't spend the time (and money) to do experiments in LEO.

Sure we can go beyond LEO for short periods of time (weeks or even months), but what the work on the ISS is preparing us for is leaving Earth for years hopefully - wherever that may be.

If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Hog

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I constantly hear the "stuck in LEO" argument,. It's usually levied towards STS and ISS by folks who believe that we should have "simply" continued with Apollo and used that as a direct step towards Mars.
IMO People who actually believe that simply don't understand how much learning was/is required for any sustainable mission beyond LEO.
And no, simply proving a capability such as docking, and the ability to have humans spacewalk, while totally necessary and impressive for 50's-60's technology, are far from proven technologies required for spending years and decades in space.
Let's not forget that we were playing a very dangerous game with the Apollo missions. LVLC was said to be "just a matter of time."
One thing that I am 100% envious of(being a person born a year after RS25/SSME testing began at Stennis) is the public/political environment that wasn't so averse to adversity.  While tragic, and I hope I am not disrespecting anyones legacy, the price of loss of life doing important things, is IMO one worth paying.  If the Apollo-1(actually AS-204) LVLC event had occurred during launch/flight, would the program have been stifled?  IMO, probably not.  That event occurred 50.8 years ago on Jan 27, 1967, less than 3 years to the political deadline of the end of the decade." The result, Apollo-4 launched 9 months later in November of the SAME year.

Fast forward 19 years to another January this time 1 day later, the 28th of 1986, the USA experiences its first LVLC event to occur during an actual spaceflight when OV-099 Challenger breaks apart during STS-51-L. Seven souls were lost.  This time it was more visible to the public, but not because it was viewed live, CNN was the only cable network that broadcast the 51-L launch live NBC was first to break into its regularly scheduled programming at 11:42 a.m.; followed by ABC at 11:43 and then CBS at 11:45.  For some reason I was home from school and watched the launch live on NASA Select on the C-Band bird Satcom F2-R Transponder 13 back in the early 80's Launch Date: 1983-09-08.  Due to the Teacher In Space program, many US schools made arrangements for NASA TV(NASA-Select) to be viewed by students to watch teacher Christa McAuliffe launch aboard Challenger.
The result, Shuttle didn't launch for 2 years 9 months with OV-103 performing her 1st RTF(Return To Flight) on Sept 28 1988 for STS-26 (IIRC internally it was STS-26R, R for reflight).
Polar flights out of Vandenberg AFB Space Launch Facility-6/SLC-6 were cancelled. As such STS-62-A on the manifest for July 1 1986 then October 15 1986 out of Vandenberg was cancelled.  IIRC the SRBs were already stacked for this mission, but issues with the facilities were probably to have delayed this mission regardless.
Any DOD missions were to be flown out, with no new missions to be planned.
Thiokol would forfeit $10 million of its incentive fee and formally accept legal liability for the failure. After the Challenger accident, Thiokol agreed to "voluntarily accept" the monetary penalty in exchange for not being forced to accept liability.
ELV/EELV technologies were to be used for launching future DOD payloads instead of Shuttle.

In 1998 ISS assembly began with assembly mission 1A/R with a Proton-K rocket launching Zarya on November 20, 1998 and then Unity was launched aboard Endeavour during STS-88 on assembly mission 2A December 4, 1998.  The 2 components were joined on December 6, 1998 beginning the assembly of what today is an almost 1,000,000 pound International Space Station used as a microgravity laboratory.

This assembly was interrupted with another LVLC event when again, 7 souls were lost during a science mission when OV-102 Columbia failed to successfully re-enter the Earth atmosphere during STS-107 of Feb 1, 2003.  While un related to ISS assembly, this failure resulted in a 29 month delay before OV-103 Discovery again performed a RTF on July 26 2005 during STS-114.  Again foam shedding was an issue, so Shuttle flights were postponed again until Discovery launched again in July 4, 2006 during STS-121.
This time the Space Shuttle Program was directed to fly out the manifest of ISS assembly, and retire by 2010.  Before retirement there was a final Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, with the Shuttles final flight being a 4 crewmember flight to ISS with OV-104 Atlantis launching on July 8 2011 and landing again on July 21 2011.
Safety was the main reason for Shuttles retirement, but many NASA people noted that since the STS-121 the program was flying very clean missions and that the system was never safer.

When Shuttle first launched, it did so with 2 brave Astronauts in the Commander and Pilot positions, these 2 seats were of the ejecting type, though at least one of them I cant remember if it was Crippen or Young that thought that the SRB plumes would at least destroy a canopy if not fry them if they did have to punch out. But the mere fact that humans were used for its initial flight proved something.  with the Astronaut Office clearly rejecting any notion of any  SLS launch using Astronauts using hardware which has not been previously proven in space, the needle pointing between the positions of Risky and Safe is continually moving towards safe.

If we as a space faring culture continually become more and more averse to adverse conditions, meaning that we reject risky situations and only move forward with "safe" operations, we might as well fold up everything and stay on the ground and talk about "paper cut" injury mitigation strategies.  The ISS is the worlds #1 microgravity research laboratory, it is/was a 100% necessary step for maximizing safety, health and well being of any future human Astronaut.  It could be considered a huge "risk mitigater" for any and all future deep space travelers. From learning about how to best retain ones bone density on orbit, to how to maximize humans dietary requirements, not only to provide them with sufficient macro and micro nutrients, but to provide such nutrients in a manner in which will provide both physical satiety AND psychological satiety from each meal. During my Army days, if the leadership could provide us with any sort of hot meal at least once a day, it did so, and sometimes went to extremes to provide that something special. Why? Because it boosted morale, and while keeping us fed, it also helped us keep our heads screwed on straight.  It was amazing what a hot meal did for us, esp. when operationally it was a long time dining out of a foil bag(IMP-Individual Meal Pack).  While there is a big difference between me eating a meal in some sandy place and an Astronaut eating a meal floating around in the ISS, there are a lot of similarities.
While Shuttle was operational and then retired, we found a way to keep that investment in the ISS up and running performing useful science.  Sure the Assembly portion with the launch vehicles and rocket engines was awesome for us space enthusiasts, its the Utilization portion of the ISSs existence that we all have been investing all this time and effort for.  Right now we have less than 7 years before ISS splashes, hopefully we use this time wisely, because after its gone, its gone.

In the words of Captain Marco Ramius "We don't cancel operations because of accidents."  I think that we need to stick to thinking like that.  That doesn't mean to blindly move forward regardless of accidents, but to accept that accident may occur, and that as much is learned from them as possible.  We have to get back to space exploration that widens our eyes. I'm sure that any person who has died in the quest for human exploration would want others to pick up where they left off and continue moving forward.  Just imagine what is going through Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewarts minds while these pictures were taken. The Manned Maneuvering Unit, risky, maybe, awe-inspiring? Most definitely.

Offline Welsh Dragon

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Best thing ever? I mean, it's good and all that, but best thing ever? Ahead of language, centralised government, agriculture, medicine? Bold claim.

Offline Darkseraph

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As brilliant as Apollo was, it didn't leave the foundations for permanent human presence in space. It was the right solution for it's time but the world today is very different. The ISS has served as an incubator for space commercialization and a means for diverse nations to collaborate and share their capabilities. Many young people today have never known a day where the population of outer space was zero!

If NASA is to be redirected towards the Moon, I would hope this time it will be done more like ISS than Apollo, leaving a persistent presence on the surface and in orbit. The European Space Agency has been touting a similar idea via their Moon Village concept.
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." R.P.Feynman