NASA is explaining why it's worth spending billions of dollars sending rockets to the International Space Station despite recent high-profile mission failures.
A new book called "Benefits for Humanity" highlights the vital research carried out on board the space station in areas including health, education and disaster relief.
"Some 250 miles overhead, astronauts are conducting critical research not possible on Earth, which makes tremendous advances in our lives while helping to expand human presence beyond low Earth orbit," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.
The ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000, with scientists on board carrying out experiments that would be impossible on Earth. The fruits of the research include devices that can help control asthma and sensor systems that significantly improve our ability to monitor the Earth and respond to natural hazards and catastrophes, among many other discoveries, according to Julie Robinson, chief scientist at the ISS. "People do not realize how much their lives today have been made better by the space station," she said.
Scientists use the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), also known as Kibo, to research effective drugs that may improve the lives of patients suffering around the globe and a special vessel identification system on the ISS even helped locate a lone shipwreck survivor stranded in the North Sea. A Canadian robotics system that helped build and now operates on the space station has led to tools that give doctors new ways to detect cancer, operate on sick children, and perform neurosurgery on patients once considered to be inoperable.
NASA is promoting the good work done on the ISS in the shadow of explosion of the June 28 SpaceX rocket which was carrying supplies and high-tech equipment to the space station. Though it was the first SpaceX accident, it was the third cargo mission failure to the ISS in the last eight months. Another private U.S. company, Orbital ATK, has halted operations since a launch accident in October and SpaceX has also postponed its missions until it can find a reason for the explosion.
Since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA has been relying on these private contractors and the Russians to reach the ISS. SpaceX and Orbital ATK have supplied cargo but the Russians charge more than $70 million a seat to fly American astronauts to the station. NASA is partnering with SpaceX and Boeing in the hope of sending manned spacecraft to the ISS by 2017. Both NASA and SpaceX have said that the June 28 accident will not affect this plan, but already Congress has pulled more than $300 million in funding for the project, a move which Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said would delay the mission by two years.
Accidents aside, spiralling costs have led critics to question the viability and return on investment of research carried out on the space station. "A vast majority of the research activities conducted aboard the ISS have related to basic research as opposed to applied research," wrote investigators for NASA's inspector general.
NASA and the ISS need promotion like the "Benefits for Humanity" book and the video below to justify government spending and attract more private investment. NASA is releasing the book at the ISS R&D Conference on July 7 but you can also get it online here.
The ISS is a partnership between NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).