Over the years there have been many reasons offered for the necessity of constructing a space station in Earth orbit. Here is a rundown of these various reasons from the 1980s to the present.
Here is what was conceived as the purposes of the space station in 1985 and stated in U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on HUD-Independent Agencies. Department of Housing and Urban Development — Independent Agencies Appropriations for 1985, Part 6, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, March 27, 1984 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), p. 8:
- “A laboratory in space, for the conduct of science and the development of new technologies;
- A permanent observatory, to look down upon the Earth and out at the universe;
- A manufacturing facility where human intelligence and the servicing capability of the station combine to enhance commercial opportunities in space;
- A transportation node where payloads and vehicles are stationed, processed and propelled to their destinations;
- A servicing facility, where these payloads and vehicles are maintained, and if necessary, repaired;
- An assembly facility where, due to ample time on orbit and the presence of appropriate equipment, large structures are put together and checked out;
- A storage depot where payloads and parts are kept on orbit for subsequent deployments; and
- A staging base for more ambitious future missions.”
As conceived in 1990-1993 stated in U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Space Studies Board, Space 7 Studies Board Position on Proposed Redesign of Space Station Freedom, Letter report to NASA Administrator Richard Truly, March 14, 1991. pp. 1-3:
- “A dedicated life sciences laboratory with adequate scientific crew to conduct research;
- A variable speed centrifuge of sufficient radius to accommodate small primates;
- Sufficient numbers of experimental subjects (humans, plants, and animals) to address the stated scientific goals; and
- Sufficient laboratory resources, i.e. power, equipment, space, and atmosphere, to support the above research requirements.”
As conceived in 1997 and stated by NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin in Testimony before the U.S. Senate, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space, International Space Station. Hearing. September 18, 1997. S. Hrg. 105-792 (Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1997), pp. 12-13:
“We happen to be building a station in Earth orbit that has unique characteristics where we could do research in biomedicine, biotechnology, advanced materials, combustion research, advanced communications and advanced engineering and Earth science that we could do on no other platform….The key to it is time on orbit and the absence of gravity.”
As conceived in 2001 and stated in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science, Space Station Cost Overruns Hearing, April 25, 2001 (Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 2001), p. 74:
- Permanent human presence in space,
- Accommodation of all international partner elements; and
- World-class research in space.
In 2000 the first crew occupied the International Space Station (ISS) and began operations on the facility. A common denominator in all of these discussions over time is the space station’s role as a research laboratory. NASA reports that more than 400 experiments have been completed on the ISS as so far. The space agency further reports that several recent patents have already resulted from that research and knowledge gained is being incorporated into the broader society. Let’s hope that space station utilization pays off beyond all expectations.