# QuestionUsefulness of the ISS (and other space stations) for humanity

#### T.Neo

##### SA 2010 Soccermaniac
If you're not going to bother try anything new, doesn't that degrade the usefulness of your space station? There are a lot of unanswered issues, that the ISS does not answer... at least, not yet. For all that money you want to get the best out of it that you possibly can.

The VASIMR experiment is the kind of visionary stuff I'm talking about. But does such an experiment really need the ISS? DS1 was a spacecraft used as an ion engine testbed, it was not mounted on a $100 billion space station. Last edited: #### garyw ##### O-F Administrator Administrator Addon Developer Tutorial Publisher If you're not going to bother try anything new, doesn't that degrade the usefulness of your space station? There are a lot of unanswered issues, that the ISS does not answer... at least, not yet. For all that money you want to get the best out of it that you possibly can. Not at all. Mir tried something new - Docking a progress with a tired crew. Look at the mess it caused. The ISS is a step forward from Mir, the amount of lessons learnt from building it from EVAs and yes, from science thats been done onboard should not be underestimated. A lot of the science thats being done is as mundane and pedestrian as you'll find in many labs around the world. It's not particually ground breaking but it's slow and steady stuff that is generating huge amounts of data which will be analysed for decades to come. Yet again, I have to ask if you have actually read any of the research papers that have come out of ISS research? The VASIMR experiment is the kind of visionary stuff I'm talking about. But does such an experiment really need the ISS? DS1 was a spacecraft used as an ion engine testbed, it was not mounted on a$100 billion space station.
Right so VASIMR is visionary but not something you want to see on the ISS. Isn't that countering what you said earlier? Either you want whizz bang visionary or you want slow and steady. You cannot have both.... or is it that you want whizz bang in this half and slow and steady in that half? Wouldn't really work would it?

#### T.Neo

##### SA 2010 Soccermaniac
Not at all. Mir tried something new - Docking a progress with a tired crew. Look at the mess it caused. The ISS is a step forward from Mir, the amount of lessons learnt from building it from EVAs and yes, from science thats been done onboard should not be underestimated.
A lot of the science thats being done is as mundane and pedestrian as you'll find in many labs around the world. It's not particually ground breaking but it's slow and steady stuff that is generating huge amounts of data which will be analysed for decades to come.
The difference is that those labs don't cost $100 billion dollars. And "docking a progress with a tired crew" is not "new and visionary", it is just plain stupid. There's a difference. You need to find the optimal balance between reaching out for something new, and not falling off the branch. Yet again, I have to ask if you have actually read any of the research papers that have come out of ISS research? Do you really think I care about science trivia? Oh wait... I do. But it isn't like it's going to help anyone anytime soon. Right so VASIMR is visionary but not something you want to see on the ISS. Isn't that countering what you said earlier? Either you want whizz bang visionary or you want slow and steady. You cannot have both.... or is it that you want whizz bang in this half and slow and steady in that half? Wouldn't really work would it? No, I'm saying that the ISS is not visionary but that a test of VASIMR is. If it gets tested on the ISS, that's nice. But that doesn't mean that you would have to start up a whole ISS manned station program to test that technology. The ISS is a holdover from the Shuttle, and there was just this idea about a shuttle-serviced manned space station. People became attached to the idea, and it didn't make a difference whether it was suboptimal or not. There are more efficient ways to accomplish a lot of the stated goals of the ISS. #### Orbinaut Pete ##### ISSU Project Manager The VASIMR experiment is the kind of visionary stuff I'm talking about. But does such an experiment really need the ISS? DS1 was a spacecraft used as an ion engine testbed, it was not mounted on a$100 billion space station.
No, VASIMR doesn't "need" ISS. However, there are benefits to putting it on ISS as opposed to launching it as a free flyer.

The main benefit is cheaper cost. If VASIMR were a free flyer, it would need massive solar arrays to gather enough power, but ISS already has those. Plus, VASIMR can be launched on a rocket that is already scheduled for the ISS - so it doesn't need to pay for its own dedicated launch vehicle, again reducing cost.

That is one of the main benefits of ISS - experiments can be flown on it and just "plug in" to its resources, instead of having to bring all those resources with them, which reduces the cost to the investigator.

And there is also quite a large chance that this trivia will stay trivia. And we're supposed to spend $100 billion on the off-chance that this becomes useful? No, we've already spent$100 billion whether it turns out to be useful or not. Also, if people only spent money on research they thought would be useful, we might all still be moving around on horse & cart right now. I'm pretty sure people thought that Thomas Edison was wasting his time with "all the electron rubbish". You can never know if something will turn out to be useful or not - that's how research works.

Granted, with stuff like COTS we have new ways of getting to the station... but this doesn't make the ISS that special, it is just a destination that can create a small market.
That "small market" is the only thing that is making commercial space a reality right now. If ISS went away, so would NASA's reason to fund commercial space. With seed money and their main market gone, commercial space would find it pretty difficult to even get off the ground.

Of course, for an orbiting spacecraft, humans make very little sense. All of our Earth observation satellites are unmanned- except for the ISS. But the ISS is not essential in this role.
Once again, you fail to understand ISS. It's true that all the Earth observation instruments on ISS could be unmanned free-flyers. But to do that they would all need their own power, propulsion, and data downlink capabilities. Plus their own dedicated launch vehicles. This would increase their cost - so it's cheaper just to put the instrument alone on ISS, and use all its resources.

But anyways, it would seem there isn't a need for a space station today. As much as I like science and everything that tags along: If I was doing the budget I'd have axed the station years ago. I'd have put that money into genuine research right here on the ground.
Umm, trust me, there is a need. This week, the NRC (National Research Council) released a report saying that NASA doesn't have anywhere near enough knowledge to conduct a BEO mission. That's because there are so many things (radiation shielding, advanced closed-loop bio-regenerative life support, autonomous crew planning & operation, human/robotic interfaces) that we need to perfect before we can go BEO. Ground testing is not sufficient for this - they tested the ISS life support systems on the ground, and they worked fine. In space - not so well. All this stuff that we need to learn about is why we need ISS.

If you think NASA doesn't have a vision, I suggest you go and read about the ISECG (International Space Exploration Coordination Group) meeting that occurred this week.

#### agentgonzo

##### Grounded since '09
each of the nine planets(don't argue with me on this one either), NINE PLANETS, nine planets
No, I will argue with you on this one. Idiocy should be stamped out wherever it is found. I have yet to find anyone who knows the subject matter who considers that there should be nine and only nine planets.

If Pluto is deemed a planet by it's size/shape/mass, then so should Eris, which is bigger in every way, so then we have 10 planets.

If you want Pluto to be a planet for historical reasons (because it was previously classified as a planet) then you have to also Ceres, Juno, Pallas and Vesta as they have previously been classified and accepted as planets. Mind you, so have the four Gallilean moons (referred to initially as Medician planets) and Saturn's larger moons. And our moon. And the Sun.

In short, There are not 9 planets. There are 8. Or if you are stupid, 10 or 13 or 14.

#### T.Neo

##### SA 2010 Soccermaniac
No, VASIMR doesn't "need" ISS. However, there are benefits to putting it on ISS as opposed to launching it as a free flyer.

The main benefit is cheaper cost. If VASIMR were a free flyer, it would need massive solar arrays to gather enough power, but ISS already has those. Plus, VASIMR can be launched on a rocket that is already scheduled for the ISS - so it doesn't need to pay for its own dedicated launch vehicle, again reducing cost.

That is one of the main benefits of ISS - experiments can be flown on it and just "plug in" to its resources, instead of having to bring all those resources with them, which reduces the cost to the investigator.
You could have a cheaply convertible service module or an unmanned complex for that. You don't need a $100 billion ISS. No, we've already spent$100 billion whether it turns out to be useful or not. Also, if people only spent money on research they thought would be useful, we might all still be moving around on horse & cart right now. I'm pretty sure people thought that Thomas Edison was wasting his time with "all the electron rubbish". You can never know if something will turn out to be useful or not - that's how research works.
Yes you can. Sorry, but it's true. There are plenty of things that are just totally useless and there are plenty of things that hold some promise, even if that promise is very slight.

You don't just go around aimlessly testing stuff for trivia. Especially not for $100 billion. That "small market" is the only thing that is making commercial space a reality right now. If ISS went away, so would NASA's reason to fund commercial space. With seed money and their main market gone, commercial space would find it pretty difficult to even get off the ground. You don't need a space station to have commercial space. Of course, tell that to the pork-focused politicians who believe that nothing needs to make sense once you move beyond Earth orbit... Once again, you fail to understand ISS. It's true that all the Earth observation instruments on ISS could be unmanned free-flyers. But to do that they would all need their own power, propulsion, and data downlink capabilities. Plus their own dedicated launch vehicles. This would increase their cost - so it's cheaper just to put the instrument alone on ISS, and use all its resources. Cheaper than the whole thing together? Yeah, I seriously doubt it. You have reduced individual costs, yes. But you can then hide the cost of the whole program. There are plenty of Earth observation satellites that needed their own power and manuvering ability, and their own launch vehicles. Yet they are more important than the ISS is and they have cost less. If you are really obsessed about having a centralised platform, you could even have an unmanned platform in space with its own power, propulsion, and mounting points, that multiple payloads could be attached to. It does not need to be manned. Umm, trust me, there is a need. This week, the NRC (National Research Council) released a report saying that NASA doesn't have anywhere near enough knowledge to conduct a BEO mission. That's because there are so many things (radiation shielding, advanced closed-loop bio-regenerative life support, autonomous crew planning & operation, human/robotic interfaces) that we need to perfect before we can go BEO. Ground testing is not sufficient for this - they tested the ISS life support systems on the ground, and they worked fine. In space - not so well. All this stuff that we need to learn about is why we need ISS. Yeah! Because things just magically stop working in space, of course. Where is the ISS testing crew reaction to and shielding from the BEO radiation environment? It is in LEO, underneath the Earth's magnetosphere. And where is it testing autonomous crew planning, when the crew can contact Houston or Moscow easily? And are these 'human-robotic interfaces' really that essential for BEO exploration? Some people may think so, but that does not make it a requirement. It isn't necessary, just useful. You don't need the ISS for testing these things. You could instead devise a transfer habitat module, that you would eventually want to use to go to Mars, for example. You would launch it into LEO, put a crew onboard, and test it there. Once you gained that knowledge, you could then do the same at a lunar lagrange point, and then eventually with a manned Mars flyby. That way you're able to evolve your capability directly, instead of bog everything down with a gigantic, costly space station. And you would be able to solve all the big unanswered (and unknown) issues as well. If you think NASA doesn't have a vision, I suggest you go and read about the ISECG (International Space Exploration Coordination Group) meeting that occurred this week. If NASA has a vision, it is going to be pretty painful for them to execute it. The ISS was not a vision of progress, it was an old vision that no longer made sense because the infrastructure that would support it (shuttle) failed and no longer made sense. In short, There are not 9 planets. There are 8. Or if you are stupid, 10 or 13 or 14. Why is that stupid? Using a different definition is not necessarily stupid, after all the IAU thought Pluto was a planet once... are they stupid? I still have a feeling that the "neighborhood clearing" requirement was just a way to prevent the solar system from having a long list of 'planets' present, most of which would be small, unimpressive and generally boring. Neighborhood clearing gets into other issues, when you consider things that you don't currently see in our solar system. Like planetary companions forming at lagrange points. The giant impact hypothesis states that a planet formed at one of our lagrange points- it would have been a considerable percentage of the Earth's mass. Therefore Earth would not have "cleared its neighborhood" and would not be a "planet". Last edited: #### agentgonzo ##### Grounded since '09 Addon Developer ... a lot of aimless twaddle about quantifying stuff... Part of humanity is the search for knowledge. There are literally billions upon billions of dollars/pounds/rand/roubles/goats spent each year trying to find knowledge for knowledge's sake without any worry about 'what useful output it could create'. It's part of being human. Yes, a cure for cancer/whatever may come out of it, but there are so many things that the human race does research into just because we want to know. You don't need to quantify everything. Magellan/Columbus sailed to the 'new worlds' because of the challenge of it to see what was out there - not to search for tobacco or cotton or something that would be useful. They explored because they could and they wanted to. The ISS is a (large) extrapolation in the same direction. #### Donamy ##### Addon Developer Addon Developer Donator Beta Tester This whole thread mirrors the bickering everywhere, about what we should do when it comes to space. That's why we're going no where fast. #### agentgonzo ##### Grounded since '09 Addon Developer Why is that stupid? Using a different definition is not necessarily stupid, after all the IAU thought Pluto was a planet once... are they stupid? It's stupid because it is a conclusion drawn from from an invalid assumption (ie, that the classification should be based solely on size/mass or historical significance). The IAU thought pluto was a planet once. True. Were they stupid? No, because they applied the best knowledge of the time. Once more knowledge was gained (KBOs) they adjusted their views and classification. Are they still stupid? No. I still have a feeling that the "neighborhood clearing" requirement was just a way to prevent the solar system from having a long list of 'planets' present, most of which would be small, unimpressive and generally boring. In my view, this is entirely correct. Historically, the word 'planet' has been to signify the major bodies of the solar system that orbit the central star. The IAU needed to have a definition to reflect this and prevent them from continually updating the list of 'planets' each time a new asteroid/KBO/comet was discovered. Exactly the same thing happened in the 1800s when the asteroids in the belt were being discovered. It's EXACTLY the same as what happened with the KBOs discovered at the end of the last century and the beginning of this one. But 'being sufficiently different and interesting' doesn't work as a scientific definition and so they settled with that (which is a pretty weak definition IMO, but gets to the gist of what they were wanting) Last edited: #### T.Neo ##### SA 2010 Soccermaniac Addon Developer Part of humanity is the search for knowledge. There are literally billions upon billions of dollars/pounds/rand/roubles/goats spent each year trying to find knowledge for knowledge's sake without any worry about 'what useful output it could create'. It's part of being human. Yes, a cure for cancer/whatever may come out of it, but there are so many things that the human race does research into just because we want to know. You don't need to quantify everything. Magellan/Columbus sailed to the 'new worlds' because of the challenge of it to see what was out there - not to search for tobacco or cotton or something that would be useful. They explored because they could and they wanted to. The ISS is a (large) extrapolation in the same direction. I really enjoy this sort of philosophy, it's almost like a sort of religious quest. Columbus didn't sail across the Atlantic because he thought it'd be cool. He wanted to sail around the world to get to the indies, and doing so would create a new route for trade (and thus wealth). It wasn't just a useless "let's find out what happens". My point is that if you want to find out small trivial things, you make sure you do it in a way that taxes resources as little as possible, because there is no guarantee it will be helpful at all. And while from a scientific 'quest for knowledge' point of view you cannot assign a monetary value to scientific results, unfortunately and fortunately, our civilisation is not run by scientists. It's stupid because it is a conclusion drawn from from an invalid assumption (ie, that the classification should be based solely on size/mass or historical significance). Yeah, historical significance is pretty stupid, but classifying something as a planet when it orbits a star and is massive enough to pull itself into a roughly spherical shape, is not that stupid a definition. The whole "neighborhood clearing" thing falls apart under certain scenarios, as with the lagrange planet scenario I mentioned- which is hypothetically possible to at least be stable. The problem is, under this definition, an object the size of Earth (or bigger) at a gas giant's lagrange point would not be a planet, even though it would be no different to an object the size of Earth orbiting a star and not being at a gas giant's lagrange point, which would most certainly be called a planet (just as Earth and Venus are). It's just a way to eliminate unimportant, "dime a dozen" objects from the Holy Order of Planets. Last edited: #### Orbinaut Pete ##### ISSU Project Manager You could have a cheaply convertible service module or an unmanned complex for that. You don't need a$100 billion ISS.
Yes, you could have, but that would increase cost the the investigator

You don't need a $100 billion ISS just for VASIMR - all the ISS experiments together create the need for ISS, while decreasing cost to the investigators. Yes you can. Sorry, but it's true. There are plenty of things that are just totally useless and there are plenty of things that hold some promise, even if that promise is very slight. You don't just go around aimlessly testing stuff for trivia. Especially not for$100 billion.
Yes, and there are many things on ISS which hold promise. I'm not going to go over them again.

Cheaper than the whole thing together? Yeah, I seriously doubt it. You have reduced individual costs, yes. But you can then hide the cost of the whole program.
Yes, the program costs are more, but the cost to the investigator is less - which is the whole point.

There are plenty of Earth observation satellites that needed their own power and manuvering ability, and their own launch vehicles. Yet they are more important than the ISS is and they have cost less.
Yes, there are some that do. But there are also some that don't, and it's pointless to fly those as free-flyers when they can go on ISS for a cheaper price.

If you are really obsessed about having a centralised platform, you could even have an unmanned platform in space with its own power, propulsion, and mounting points, that multiple payloads could be attached to. It does not need to be manned.
But if we build this umnanned platform, we'd still need a manned platform for the human and crewed environment related research. So you might as well combine the two platforms to save the cost of operating two.

Yeah! Because things just magically stop working in space, of course.
Yes, they do seem to.

Where is the ISS testing crew reaction to and shielding from the BEO radiation environment? It is in LEO, underneath the Earth's magnetosphere. And where is it testing autonomous crew planning, when the crew can contact Houston or Moscow easily?
Active radiation shielding will be tested with AMS. For autonomous crew planning, go research the ISTAR experiment.

You don't need the ISS for testing these things. You could instead devise a transfer habitat module, that you would eventually want to use to go to Mars, for example. You would launch it into LEO, put a crew onboard, and test it there. Once you gained that knowledge, you could then do the same at a lunar lagrange point, and then eventually with a manned Mars flyby. That way you're able to evolve your capability directly, instead of bog everything down with a gigantic, costly space station.
But such a module would not be optimised for Earth-based research, and would also require you to develop things like advanced ECLSS before you has tested it in space - which would be silly.

And Shuttle only failed in your opinion - please stress that in future, since a lot of people disagree (including me).

I really enjoy this sort of philosophy
It's clear that there is no room inside you for anything philosophical or meaningful - which is a shame, because humanity could use more things which are done for the spirit of it, not just "what money can this make me right now".

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#### agentgonzo

##### Grounded since '09
My point is that if you want to find out small trivial things, you make sure you do it for a very small amount of money, because there is no guarantee it will be helpful at all.
Once again, you are defining the purpose of the ISS as 'to find out small trivial things'. The ISS was like the moon-shot - we did it because we wanted to. We wanted to learn how to do it for its own sake, not to come up with results about chickens in zero G. It got funded by governments because they also wanted to do it. Lunar geography/zero G chickens are all (in some sense) 'excuses' that we can give to get into space. And enough people want to get humanity into space that they are willing to allow governments to fund it to the tune of billions of dollars.

---------- Post added at 15:11 ---------- Previous post was at 15:06 ----------

but classifying something as a planet when it orbits a star and is massive enough to pull itself into a roughly spherical shape, is not that stupid a definition.
Yes it is. The key word here is 'roughly' and it all falls apart at that. It's fine when you have huge almost round balls like the Earth and small potato-shaped rocks like Mathilda, but in the grey area between you'll just have scientists arguing "I think it is" "well I think it isn't" which is entirely subjective and thus a bad definition.

#### T.Neo

##### SA 2010 Soccermaniac
Yes, you could have, but that would increase cost the the investigator

You don't need a $100 billion ISS just for VASIMR - all the ISS experiments together create the need for ISS, while decreasing cost to the investigators. Not necessarily. There are more ways to decreasing 'recurring' costs. You don't need a$100 billion ISS.

Yes, and there are many things on ISS which hold promise. I'm not going to go over them again.
For the last time (sigh), that's right, a lot of experiments alone aren't worth $100 billion. You have to look at the collective value of everything - not just to Earth, but for future space exploration too. My point is that you're hiding the cost per experiment behind the whole program cost. If you include it in 'recurring' pricetag, it might well be higher than the alternative. Yes, but higher to whom? Not the investigator, which is my point. Neither of which need something like the ISS. *Pete bangs head against brick wall* Yes, AMS doesn't need ISS - but why fly AMS as a free-flyer when ISS was there ready, willing and able to fly it without the need for its own supporting equipment? You use that platform to develop your ECLSS. You can develop a simpler ECLSS, and then use that knowledge to build a more advanced ECLSS. ...which is exactly what we're doing on ISS. Of course the Shuttle failed. It met none of its stated goals, and ended up being inefficient compared to expendable launch vehicles. Don't get me wrong. I love the shuttle, and I won't deny that a LEO shuttle concept is a good one in some cases... but in this particular case, it was just a miserable failure. ...In your opinion. I agree it didn't meet its financial obligations, but I still don't think it was a failure. And yes, "how can this help me right now" is pretty important, because sadly our civilisation actually has to operate and it can't spend all its time on "philosophically meaningful" science experiments. All our time? No-one is saying that we should spend all out time on it - just some. Which is exactly what we already do, since, as I've said before, the US spends less than a half of a percent on space - I think that small amount of money is justifiable for philosophical pursuits than inspire us and give dreams to our young people. #### agentgonzo ##### Grounded since '09 Addon Developer Proving your point by explaining that objective mathamatical limits can be used to quantify something? :uhh: Yes, that objective mathematical limits can be used to quantify things rather than subjective ones. Thank you. #### T.Neo ##### SA 2010 Soccermaniac Addon Developer For the last time (sigh), that's right, a lot of experiments alone aren't worth$100 billion. You have to look at the collective value of everything - not just to Earth, but for future space exploration too.
I would like to point out that I am mostly ignoring "future space exploration" because it too has little value to Earth...

And no, I don't believe the collective value is enough to justify that $100 billion cost, even over several years of experiments. Yes, but higher to whom? Not the investigator, which is my point. Ok, so if I develop a rocket at a cost of$20 billion to the US taxpayer (or whoever) and I charge you one pound to ride it, it is an overwhelmingly cheap rocket?

Yes, AMS doesn't need ISS - but why fly AMS as a free-flyer when ISS was there ready, willing and able to fly it without the need for its own supporting equipment?
My point isn't about AMS, it's about the ISS in the first place. You could have done other things that would have been more optimal overall and for stuff like AMS as a part of that.

...which is exactly what we're doing on ISS.
Except my point is that a program could be devised that could do exactly the same thing in a manner that would be more direct, more helpful, and perhaps even less costly.

...In your opinion. I agree it didn't meet its financial obligations, but I still don't think it was a failure.
I'm a total shuttle-hugger. I think it's an awesome vehicle. But it most definitely is a failure.

Its only success is that it illustrated how bad of a failure a program can be, and perhaps also served as a learning oppurtunity to show how not to build a spaceplane... :shifty:

All our time? No-one is saying that we should spend all out time on it - just some. Which is exactly what we already do, since, as I've said before, the US spends less than a half of a percent on space - I think that small amount of money is justifiable for philosophical pursuits than inspire us and give dreams to our young people.
There are far better ways to inspire young people. The real world is one of them.

My point isn't about money, but philosophy. You grant undue philosophical worth to this sort of research.

#### garyw

Tutorial Publisher
Do you really think I care about science trivia?

Oh wait... I do. But it isn't like it's going to help anyone anytime soon.
I'm confused you either care about science or not and it's not about it helping anyone right now, science doesn't work like that. Science won't solve things overnight. it's a slow investigative process.

I really do urge you to read some of the rsearch papers that have been written from data sets generated on the ISS. You either care about the science the ISS is doing or not. What happens if research done on the ISS today leads to a ground breaking result in 20 years time? Science is slow and careful and it has to be.

Please read the papers coming out of ISS science. If you want me to recommend a few I can certainly do that but you'll probably need to pay for access to them.