The Value of ISS: Let's Focus on Near Term Reality

Editor's note: Mike Griffin would like to have the Space Station go away. He can't have that - so he is doing the minimum it takes to least annoy America's partners. To their credit, lawmakers such as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison believe that the ISS represents more than just a financial commitment - it represents a multi-decade committeement to science - more than just human-based research. They also see the value of pure research as often being the place where some of our most startling ans useful discoveries emerge. Alas, right now, NASA seems to feel that little valuable science can be done on ISS - and sees litte value for pure research - so it has cancelled most of it. This includes research that will be required to enable humans to travel to destinations such as Mars.

In promoting the value of the ISS - not just to human-based research, but also another areas of investigation (the whole premise of ISS in the first place) supporters such as Sen. Hutchison should seek to focus their efforts on research that has a reasonable chance of providing a payback in the near term. This is not to suggest that long-lead science is not important (it is) or that it has the chance to find important answers with unexpected consequences (it does).

When far out ideas are floated as being a rationale to finish ISS as planned (NASA was certainly guilty of this in the 1990s), detractors seize on such ideas as yet another example of how ISS proponents see it as the cure for all evils and the answer to all questions. But at time when Griffin et al are doing their level best to dumb down the ISS, some thought should be given by ISS supporters as to the things that the ISS can reasonably accomplish in the few years it has left.

There is no reason why the research Sen. Hutchison cites cannot be performed with an unmanned spacecraft. Yet there are things that can only be done on a manned vehicle such as the ISS. Let's focus on what only the ISS can and should do - and less on all of the things it might do given infinite resources.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on May 24, 2006 9:29 AM.

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