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ISS News

Science News CASIS Would Rather You Not See

By Keith Cowing
March 6, 2014
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CASIS Releases Request for Information to Identify Equipment for Materials Science Research on the ISS, CASIS
Cutting-Edge Techniques Used for the Structural Investigation of Single Crystals, Science
“X-ray crystallography has become the leading technique for studying the structure of matter at the atomic and molecular level. Today it underpins all sciences and is widely applied in industry. It is essential in the development of new materials. The technique is very powerful, and the range of materials that can be studied expands as new technologies evolve and are applied in innovative ways to structure solution. It is now possible to record vast amounts of diffraction data in seconds electronically, whereas it took days and months by photographic methods 30 to 40 years ago. Single crystals can be created in various ways; they can be produced from compounds that are liquids or gases at room temperature, and complete molecular structures can be presented within minutes. This short review presents recent developments that are appropriate to the single-crystal x-ray studies of chemical and materials sciences.”
Developments in X-ray Crystallographic Structure Determination of Biological Macromolecules, Science
Keith’s note: Neither of these articles in this special issue of Science mention microgravity. Yet CASIS perpetuates utilization myths and acts as if advances in crystallography can only be made if you use uber-perfect crystals that have been grown in space. Space is no longer necessesary since vanishingly small amounts of material are now all that is required for Earth-based crystallography procedures (see links below) and answers appear swiftly – not months/years later. Shouldn’t CASIS be focusing on things that can really utilize the unqiue capabilities of the ISS – not space-based technology that has already been eclipsed by advances back on Earth?

There was a time when large, perfect crystals – harder to grow on Earth, but somewhat easier to grow in microgravity conditions in space – did confer some advantages in crystallography. But NASA dragged its feet for a decade or more in the actual utilization of the ISS and capitalizing on this field while progress on Earth continued unabated and soon solved prior problems. NASA was left in the dust and it was NASA’s fault that this happened.
That’s the infuriating thing about the ISS: its vast, untapped potential coupled with borderline inept utilization of this potential by NASA. And when NASA and Congress wanted to see more progress they re-created NASA’s dysfunction in the form of CASIS. Now there are two official ways to stumble through the partial, slow motion utilization of the ISS.
And when SLS budgetary forces inevitably lead to the early termination of the ISS (forget that 2024 extension) everyone will cry foul and cite the potential of the ISS. But by then it will be too late to do anything.
Space Station Science Has Been Left in the Dust – Again, earlier post
Using the ISS: Once Again NASA Has Been Left in the Dust, earlier post
Realizing the Research Potential of the ISS Once and for All, earlier post
While NASA Flies In Circles Technology Advances Back on Earth, earlier post
One More Reason Not To Use the ISS?, earlier post

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.