PDA

View Full Version : What is the point of the ISS?



DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 02:20 AM
I posed this question in another thread in an offhanded way and some people expressed an interest in answering the question, but didn't in the interests of not hijacking. So, here is a thread specifically for that discussion.

Some background posts from that other thread:


At the current rate of 'progress', we'd be lucky to send a single man back to the moon in an Apollo style tin can.


Ha ha, that's pretty pessimistic. If you ask me, we should be sending robots to do our exploring, as we
have been. Humans will eventually follow. But the due date on that project is very far in the future.


I agree with that. Trouble is, lots of real science dollars have been squandered on manned LEO missions. Can anyone tell me what is the point of the ISS?


I'd love to give my opinion on that, but I think that's a discussion for another thread.

So here it is. :)

Note, I'm not necessarily saying that I'm against manned space missions, in general (far from it). I'm specifically asking about the ISS. What has it produced/achieved that could not have been done in other, less expensive ways? What is the cost/benefit ratio? Indeed, what is its objective? Why should we keep it flying?

Swift
2009-Aug-24, 02:30 AM
I've moved this thread to Space Exploration as a more appropriate forum. I also think we've had several past discussions about this, which I'm sure someone else will link to.

DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 02:37 AM
I guess I should have done a search on the topic, thought I felt Van Rijn wanted to express his opinion directly. Apologies for the duplicate...

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 11:51 AM
Here's (http://www.bautforum.com/space-exploration/90992-james-lovell-calls-station-white-elephant.html) a link to a recent ISS-whats-the-point? related discussion, and here's a link to a forum where a very long report on ISS science (http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=18453.0), including lists of publications for each experiment, has been posted. It's the attachment at the bottom of the first post, well worth a read whatever your opinion of the ISS is!

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 12:14 PM
The presentation, created by NASA, claims that there are about 200 scientific publications and a lot of patents exist because of the ISS.

The big question is - how this can compare to the $100 billion cost when we know there are other cheaper projects with much more scientific value.

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 12:40 PM
I take from your use of the word 'claims' you wish to imply that there is some doubt over the existence of these publications and patents. A very quick bit of copy-ing and pasting into google from the report should show them to be real or not (I've tried this myself and they are but don't take my word for it!). Edit: If I have read to much into your use of the word claims my sincere apologies. End edit.

Which projects do you have in mind? I won't contest that the ISS is expensive, behind schedule, possibly mismanaged, and the value of what it finds open to interpretation, argument and opinion as with any research lab.

However would you agree that if you don't have some kind of platform in space (if not the ISS then some kind of space lab, manned or unmanned) you don't get any of the results or patents the ISS has produced, at any price?

I'd like to be clear that I don't wish do pick an argument: I'm wondering if you object to spending on the ISS as it is now specifically, the idea of a manned space laboratory, or simply spending on the kind of in-space science that is being done there?

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 12:57 PM
Which projects do you have in mind?

Hubble, for example.


However would you agree that if you don't have some kind of platform in space (if not the ISS then some kind of space lab, manned or unmanned) you don't get any of the results or patents the ISS has produced, at any price?

I think I agree. But was it the right platform? There are easy ways to study microgravity or the behavior of fluids. Let's take, for example, Foton spacecraft:

http://www.esa.int/esaCP/Pr_29_2007_p_EN.html

We hay have the same amount of science (speculation) if we launch the same amount of Foton spacecraft as the shuttle/soyuz missions each year.

Warren Platts
2009-Aug-24, 01:03 PM
The point of the ISS was to demonstrate the feasibility of modular construction of large structures in space, and to show that humans can remain in space indefinitely, if they are resupplied often enough.

Now that we've done that, I say the US should let the international partners take over the ISS and wring out whatever discoveries that can still be made, and that NASA should concentrate its resources on building a new space station on the surface of the Moon.
_________________________
Men decide far more problems by hate, love, lust, rage, sorrow, joy, hope, fear, illusion, or some other inward emotion, than by reality, authority, any legal standard, judicial precedent, or statute.
-Cicero

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 01:13 PM
Good question, I can't answer it! I think the question is and always has been: would the science results produced by the ISS be both cheaper and of as good quality if they had been the result of a series of smaller platform flights? Some of the ISS research is on people, so there would need to be many manned flights as well. The one area we'd definately have lost out on would be experiance constructing a big thing in space.

I honestly don't know if ISS is the right way to study the effects of being in space but I'm glad we agree that those effects are worth studying. :)

Edit: Warren, why should US science loose out on those discoveries?

Antice
2009-Aug-24, 01:15 PM
A lot of the science done on the ISS cant be done anywhere else. how do you weigh t6he value of research? the research done on the ISS is directly resulting in improvements in multiple areas of science. especially in areas that are directly aplicable to improving people's lives.

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 01:27 PM
Can you give us examples?

I know for sure that studying the effect of weightlessness can be studied aboard SpaceLab/Shuttle. Physics experiments - I assume too.

DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 01:36 PM
the research done on the ISS is directly resulting in improvements in multiple areas of science. especially in areas that are directly aplicable to improving people's lives.
Can you list a few of those improvements which were directly applicable in improving people's lives?


Some of the ISS research is on people, so there would need to be many manned flights as well.
Yes, but the ISS is not unique in that capacity. Just as much, if not more of the same type of research, was done on Mir and Skylab before it, so it seems like an awfully large price to pay for more of the same.

I take your point about construction in space, but how valuable has it really been? Has it been the case that a major piece of space assembly failed miserably due to insufficient knowledge and inexperience? Or did most of the assembly proceed as expected?

I'd also like to know what were the original goals of the ISS before it was approved and built and whether they are still the same goals or have they been largely changed/modified to reflect its current situation?

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 01:57 PM
The ISS certainly isn't a unique venue for studying the effects of space full stop, but it is the biggest and most sophisticated one we have to date. The research into soft matter (colloids, magnetic fluids etc) and infectious desieses (salmonella virulence, for example, is greater in micro g as the bacteria 'thinks' it's in a hosts gut do to similar fluid shear conditions) certainly has relevance here on earth. I suspect the research into the effects of spaceflight on astronaut pulmonary systems and psychology will have relevance, though maybe not as direct, here on earth. However we might have got the same from a dedicated skylab style station plus a lot of satellite flights, and I don't know how to add up and compare the costs!

I also don't know how to quantify how valuable the experiance building the ISS has been to be honest- I guess that we'll only be able to tell by watching future in-space construction projects of the same size. I don't believe there are any past ones (how big was Mir?).

I'll try to do some homework on the ISS original goals!

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 02:11 PM
I'll try to do some homework on the ISS original goals!

The ISS was drifting without goals for long periods of time - from 1986 to 1998, when the first module was launched.

It's good to see a space station's original goals back in 1960:

1. Act as a platform for telecommunications
2. Act as a platform for navigation
3. Use it as a platform for astronomy observations
4. Use it as a platform for Earth observations
5. Use it as a place where to assemble interplanetary ships.

But during this same decades computer chips started to be produced and later all of these options except the last were fulfilled by unmanned satellites. The last option was killed only later - when the ISS was put in a useless orbit.

Don't get me wrong - I love shuttle launches and enjoy these impressive engineering missions. But I fully realize that the space station fulfills none of these goals. The only thing you can do with the ISS today is to study Microgravity.

But NASA canceled the most ambitious project - the Centrifuge module. This makes me thinking that all these biological experiments can be done cheaply aboard Foton or other types of spacecraft.

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 02:29 PM
It's not all it should or could have been, and loosing the cetrifuge module was a bad blow for it.

I'm open to the idea that whats done on the ISS could be done in other, cheaper, ways, but I could also believe that the 'one big platform for everything' approach is (or at least could be if done well) cheaper than many smaller dedicated missions. I also think that having crew on hand to supervise, service, and maintain experiments probably helps some with the quality and reliability of the experiments, and kills two birds with one stone by effectively having one group of experiments look after the rest of them, but thats a fairly weak justification for a human presence.

Edit: Oh, it's been the first space tourism destination. It might be that the ISS's part in proving there's a real private sector market in space tourism will be the best part of it's legacy....time will tell I guess!

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 02:47 PM
I don't know if I shared this before, but I'm very much AGAINST space tourism on the International Space Station.

I just don't find it acceptable to pay taxes for orbital leisures accessible only for rich and famous.

ISS should be visited only by professional astronaut/cosmonauts until space exploration becomes accessible to all via the Private sector (V. galactics or so).

DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 02:52 PM
But NASA canceled the most ambitious project - the Centrifuge module. This makes me thinking that all these biological experiments can be done cheaply aboard Foton or other types of spacecraft.
Agreed. Didn't they use to say that one of the potential applications was to make super round ball bearings? This seems just as weak as research into soft matter (colloids, magnetic fluids etc) and infectious diseases, which sound like post-justifications.

DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 03:05 PM
I don't know if I shared this before, but I'm very much AGAINST space tourism on the International Space Station.

I just don't find it acceptable to pay taxes for orbital leisures accessible only for rich and famous.

ISS should be visited only by professional astronaut/cosmonauts until space exploration becomes accessible to all via the Private sector (V. galactics or so).
I wouldn't be against it if it meant it would accelerate private space investment and development. However, I doubt the ISS's configuration and orbit are suitable for such repurposing.

NEOWatcher
2009-Aug-24, 03:13 PM
I don't know if I shared this before, but I'm very much AGAINST space tourism on the International Space Station.
Me too.
What I don't know is how you can calculate a true cost of a tourist on the space station.
It's not just training and launching which sounds like that's what they get for thier money.

First, there are shared costs. I'm sure there are plenty of things that would be spent anyway for the capacity, but those are very difficult to separate. But there are other's that might be able to be computed like the cost of running the life support systems and related consumeables. I'm sure you can amortize some of that.

Second, there are costs in time and space. How much is lost just having to worry about that person there? Could there even be a slight loss of functionality having that body in the way?

Emotionally; it could go both ways for the "real" astronauts. It's good that you have new contact with someone, but it's someone that might not be viewed as pulling thier own (micro)weight.

And; even more nitpicky. What about depreciation of hardware and it's development? If the design and construction was due to international contributions, then how much of that was distributed among the tourism piece?

On the plus side; there may be some capacity that is going unused anyway.


ISS should be visited only by professional astronaut/cosmonauts until space exploration becomes accessible to all via the Private sector (V. galactics or so).
Well; it is pretty much accessible to all. Unfortunately, the cost bar is set so high, it get's extremely exclusive. How low does that affordability bar need to be before it's considered accessible to all? When did airplane flight become accessible to all, as opposed to just the rich and famous?

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 03:15 PM
Dr Who: In what way is research into infectious desieses a weak justification, or did our medical science become perfect in the last week and I missed the headlines? And soft matter, which encompasses everything from engine grease to milk to setting concrete is one of the 21st centuries biggest emerging fields of materials research- or is materials science not important anymore? Your post seems to be attacking the importance of understanding these things rather than where they should be studied.

I'm happy to admit it's possible these things could be researched on other platforms cheaper, but thats not the same as it being proved as such. Do you have such proof?

Zveddichko, I was under the impression the ISS orbital tourists payed their own way? I'd also point out that orbital tourism has to start somewhere, and that will have to be with the ultra rich, and on the only space station that is currently up there with regular flights to and from. If there is a realistic near term plan to give us all orbital acess I'm changing my holiday destination this year! Edit: NEOwatcher just gave this a much more in depth response than me!

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 03:20 PM
I see your point, marsbug, but there's NO realistic near-turn plan except the suborbital tourism of Virgin Galactics. NASA, Russia and other nations have no plans to make fully reusable spacecraft. Only full reusability will ensure a cheap orbital access.

DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 03:26 PM
In what way is research into infectious desieses a weak justification, or did our medical science become perfect in the last week and I missed the headlines?
It hasn't, but I'm sure that such research can continue equally well on terra firma and far more cost effectively then in an artificial microgravity environment. The point I'm trying to make is that no one was screaming out for a big, expensive space station so that research into infectious diseases may continue. It's more of a 'hey, let's see what happens in space' kind of thing, and as such a weak justification. I'm not saying that it's totally pointless, just that it's a poor cost/benefit proposition.

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 03:44 PM
Err.. how are we supposed to use microgravity as a tool to study the behavoir of microorgansisms without going into space? What you say about the ISS not being built for studying mirobes is true as far as it goes, but hey what happens if....? is where most research begins, and if you want to do: hey what happens to.....in micro g? or ...under space radiation? or... LEO vacuum conditions? then you pretty much have to go into space.

Some of the research threads up there are long running, and are inherited from the shuttle or FOTON missions, so those aren't random what happens if...? experiments, they are using micro g to investigate an area they know it is a usefull tool for examining. The same is true for the commercial experiments up there.


None of that means they couldn't have been done with just the shuttle or FOTON capsule of course, but it couldn't be done on terra firma.

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 03:45 PM
What about vomit comets as a tool?

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 03:50 PM
They only give you micro g in bursts of about a minute at best, sub orbital flights for around ten to fifteen I believe. Where those can be used they are, suborbital flights are probably more common than people think, they just don't get much publicity.

I'm hopeing that showing there is a market for orbital tourism is stimulating interest in things like developing fully reusable craft.

DrWho
2009-Aug-24, 04:20 PM
What you say about the ISS not being built for studying mirobes is true as far as it goes
But that is my point. All of that could have been done much more cost effectively, if it really needed to be done, by smaller scale missions. In fact, in that situation, the mission would truly need to be compelling to be justified. If it wasn't, it wouldn't get off the ground. The ISS is like building a 150,000 seat sports stadium so that the local club can play football every other weekend. I just don't see how it can be justified given the cost and its objectives.

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 05:44 PM
I can't speak on the ISS being the best or worst way to use micro g to study things (I suspect it's much less than optimum but I can't prove that), but, speaking as a researcher, I think that if micro g can be used to help answer a question about physics chemistry or biology then it should be.

For me the answer to 'should we try to answer this question?' is always yes. There a a lot of questions microgravity can help us answer. Who wouldn't want the biggest, best stadium possible for the home team they care passionately about? Who wouldn't take it if it were offered?

If the ISS lowers the bar and allows more questions to be answered using micro g then to me thats a good thing, not a fault.

Edit: When the Salford reds (rugby team) get to play twickenham stadium I guarantee salfordians would find a way to fill every seat!

If you'd suggested using the ISS money to give every university in the world it's own cubesat I would have agreed hands down, but we'd still need a time machine!

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 06:57 PM
I can't speak on the ISS being the best or worst way to use micro g to study things (I suspect it's much less than optimum but I can't prove that), but, speaking as a researcher, I think that if micro g can be used to help answer a question about physics chemistry or biology then it should be.



What kind of degree you have in science? I'm a Bachelor in Molecular biology and if everything goes well I'll get a Master degree in Plant Physiology. I do claim the ISS is a good place to study Microgravity (... effects of weighlessness), I had a course work about microgravity and used a lot of references to shuttle and ISS studies.

matthewota
2009-Aug-24, 08:13 PM
1. To do microgravity research in many fields
2. To gather data on the long term effects of microgravity on the human body.
3. most importantly, to maintain a permanent manned US presence in space.

marsbug
2009-Aug-24, 09:09 PM
A bachelors in physics with space technology, a masters in vacuum technology and applications, and I'm studying for a PhD in materials science and surface engineering. Fingers crossed! I probably spend too much time here rather than writing up though.

Dr who, you almost seem to be arguing for more limited acces to space.... :(

Zvezdichko
2009-Aug-24, 09:24 PM
This is probably because we didn't lost the ability of DREAMING.

But as I mentioned in another thread... oh, I'm getting pessimistic.

ehok
2009-Aug-24, 10:37 PM
Well, hundreds of experiments have been conducted on ISS and there will be 10 years of full crew research going foward so science-wise, the value has yet to be fully measured. You might have been able to get more bang for you buck doing them on unmanned launches. HSF is expensive.

But for human space flight? It's been a great experiment in life support and orbital construction. ~130 spacewalks to build it alone so you can't tell me weve learned nothing about EVA operations. But if you don't value HSF, you won't value ISS short of an unexpected science breakthrough in the next 10 years.

Also, $100 billion might be an unfair price tag seeing as that includes the shuttle flights. SHuttle would have flown anyway.

JonClarke
2009-Aug-24, 11:09 PM
Is it just me or do others find this constant criticism of the ISS annoying. No matter how many papers are published, not matter how many reports and reviews point to the value of the facility, no matter the fact that more than a dozen nations consider this worthwhile, despite these facts and links being pointed out over and over again, people ask the same question.

I think it is worthwhile applying the same rules that we do with Apollo Hoax and ATM discussions. Rather the constantly covering the same groud, point people back to the threads where these issues have been done to death. Even better, have one thread which can be the primary discussion for for the ISS.

Jon

JonClarke
2009-Aug-24, 11:15 PM
I am going start going these posts and responding to the usual questions


The presentation, created by NASA, claims that there are about 200 scientific publications and a lot of patents exist because of the ISS.

The big question is - how this can compare to the $100 billion cost when we know there are other cheaper projects with much more scientific value.


more than 200 papers is very good for a facility that isn't finished yet. How much research has the LHC generated before it was finished?

The often quoted $100 billion cost is the estimated lifetime cost. It hasn't cost that much to date.

Cheaper projects of greater scientific value? Please give examples. Who determines they are better value? You? The AAAS, NAS?

Jon

mugaliens
2009-Aug-25, 02:48 AM
I don't know if I shared this before, but I'm very much AGAINST space tourism on the International Space Station.

I just don't find it acceptable to pay taxes for orbital leisures accessible only for rich and famous.

They take up extra space not currently in use, and they most certainly pay their own way. No favors, there...

I agree with Marsbug: "it's been the first space tourism destination. It might be that the ISS's part in proving there's a real private sector market in space tourism will be the best part of it's legacy."

I seriously doubt the private sector would have risen to this role without ISS tourism.

NEOWatcher
2009-Aug-25, 12:28 PM
They take up extra space not currently in use, and they most certainly pay their own way. No favors, there...
Everything that I see makes me disagree with this.

Even if there is an extra empty seat on the Soyuz, you still need to consider that the cost of that launch is being picked up by the government. Obviously, that is not the U.S. but we do need to consider all the countries involved pay parts of this.

Now; I did some looking to see what I can use as costs involved.
Simonyi is taking his second trip for $35M, and that's an all inclusive cost.

The Russians will be charging the U.S. (http://news.softpedia.com/news/Russia-Wants-51-Million-for-Seat-on-Soyuz-111571.shtml) $51M per seat starting in 2010.

So; based on these numbers, I don't see how the costs are covered. Even if we assume that the cost of consumables, training and all the other things I mentioned previously are only a few million, the income from the trip up seems to be woefully inadaquate.

Antice
2009-Aug-25, 12:44 PM
Either that or the russians are gouging the US pretty bad with their price per seat cost after 2010.

NEOWatcher
2009-Aug-25, 12:54 PM
Either that or the russians are gouging the US pretty bad with their price per seat cost after 2010.
Yes; that's entirely possible, but that would add another potentially unanswerable complication: Are they gouging us to make up for lost revenue?

Antice
2009-Aug-25, 01:21 PM
why blame a conspiracy when youcan blame good ol greed?
They know that the US has no choice but to buy from them until the gap is closed. so why not try to make a bit extra on it hey?

robross
2009-Aug-30, 07:08 AM
Either that or the russians are gouging the US pretty bad with their price per seat cost after 2010.

According to NASA it costs about $450 million per shuttle launch.

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/information/shuttle_faq.html#10

If we assume 7 people per launch, it costs NASA $64 million per person, per launch.

It sounds like NASA is actually saving money by hiring the Russians.

Rob

Antice
2009-Aug-30, 10:02 AM
Ah yes... but Soyuz to shuttle is hardly apples to apples. the shuttle can take both 7 astronauts and a good chunk of cargo....
I cant think of any good way to make it a true apples to apples tho....

Glom
2009-Aug-30, 10:33 AM
Can you give us examples?

I know for sure that studying the effect of weightlessness can be studied aboard SpaceLab/Shuttle. Physics experiments - I assume too.

But those flights can only last a couple of weeks. A space station is needed for long term experiments.

zerocold
2009-Sep-05, 11:12 AM
The 'what is the ISS point?' question is raised just to promote a dumber and even less sensical program, the moon's return...

The ISS is a laboratory, the point of it is the zero gravity enviorenment, the ISS is a in-orbit construction experiment.

But the most important factor for it development is the potential to use space stations as platforms for larger programs, for example, a mission to mars or saturn would require a too big payload to be carried into a single rocket (something that will happen eventually if better fuels are not found), then the space station will be needed as a space dock for ensambling and checking

Space stations have as well, important military uses , restringed right now, i would not be surprised if the ISS knowledge would be used for future military installations

newpapyrus
2009-Sep-05, 07:13 PM
There was no logical reason for a titanic microgravity space station. Small Skylab-like space stations make more economic sense.

Setting up a base on the Moon will enable us to determine if humans can survive under a 1/6 hypogravity environment. If we can, then human survival on Mars will be a cinch. Setting up mass drivers on the Moon will enable us to launch mass shielding material for space stations and interplanetary space craft. Mass drivers delivered lunar material could also be a source of oxygen for rocket fuel and air for space stations. Mass drivers could also deliver aluminum for rocket fuel and for the manufacture of interplanetary light sails capable of transporting hundreds and even thousands of tonnes to Mars orbit.