What is the purpose of the International
There may be no "legitimate work" other
than the self-perpetuation of the project. The astronauts'
work is assembling, testing and repairing the components,
but that begs the question of why these components are
being pieced together some 250 miles above the earth.
The International Space Station, as it is called, will
be a 360-ft.-long, 460-ton ship in low orbit powered
by an acre of solar panels. It will also be the most
government project in human history, costing an estimated
$96 billion — including the $10 billion NASA has already
spent for the initial design and $25 billion for the
hardware, the $20 billion for shuttle launches to get
the hardware into orbit and $42 billion for maintaining
it. The justification for this $96 billion assemblage,
as provided to Congress by NASA, is scientific research
that cannot be conducted at a lower altitude.
Four types of research are cited in the mission statement
(other than preparing for other space stations). They
1) Protein crystal studies. The stated rationale here
is that more pure protein crystals may be grown in space
than on Earth and that analysis of these crystals can
help scientists better understand the nature of proteins,
enzymes and viruses. But such experiments also could
be conducted on unmanned vehicles or on the Space Shuttle.
2) Tissue culture. The stated rationale here is that
living cells can be better grown in a laboratory environment
in space where they are not distorted by gravity. But
such cultures could be grown in a Bioreactor device
on Earth that simulate the effect of reduced gravity
such as the one NASA has already built. Or they could
also be grown on unmanned space satellites.
3) Human anatomical studies. The rationale here is that
studying the effects of reduced gravity on humans – weakening
muscles; changes in how the heart, arteries and veins
work; and the loss of bone density – will lead to a better
understanding of the body's systems. But such effects
could also be studied on earth by observing animals, including
humanoids, in a centrifuge that simulates reduced gravity.
Such data would also be available from humans aboard space
4) Alloy mixing. The stated rationale here is that
flames, fluids and metal burn and combine differently
without gravity which might allow better mixing of metal
alloys. But similar experiments could be conducted on
an unmanned satellite or in a centrifuge on earth that
simulates reduced gravity.
So all four scientific purposes do not require a $96 billion
manned space station. The space station thus, whatever
its entertainment value may be, has no unique scientific
purpose. In this case, The means have become an end in