Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live and work in space?
Space stations like the International Space Station (ISS) allow astronauts to do groundbreaking science and technology demonstrations not possible on Earth.
In this blog post, I’ll highlight 13 fascinating things a space station lets us do in the microgravity environment of space.
1. Conduct Science Experiments in Microgravity
The microgravity environment on the ISS provides a unique laboratory for running experiments that reveal how physical and biological systems behave differently than on Earth. Research focuses on areas like fluid physics, combustion science, materials science, and cell and plant biology.
For example, scientists can observe flame spread and fire dynamics in microgravity that aren’t possible under the influence of gravity on Earth. The insights gained help advance scientific knowledge and provide benefits for life on Earth.
2. Test New Technologies for Future Space Missions
The space station serves as an orbiting technology testbed to trial new systems for future space exploration missions. Testing technologies in the actual space environment allows engineers to assess how the systems perform in microgravity and in the high radiation of space.
For instance, NASA has tested inflatable space habitat modules, solar array technologies, and water recovery systems on the ISS before they are used for future deep space missions to the Moon and Mars. This on-orbit testing validates technologies, saving time and costs for future space programs.
3. Study Long-Term Effects of Space on the Human Body
The space station allows researchers to study how extended stays in space affect the human body. Astronauts experience changes while living in microgravity like altered vision, bone loss, muscle atrophy, cardiovascular deconditioning, and changes to their immune system.
Detailed experiments and medical monitoring of crew members on 6-12 month missions aboard the ISS reveal critical insights into these health effects of long-duration spaceflight. These biomedical studies will help NASA better understand how to keep astronauts healthy and productive on future long-term missions to Mars and beyond.
4. Take Stunning Photos and Videos of Earth
The space station’s unique vantage point 250 miles above Earth allows for breathtaking images and videos of our planet. Multiple external cameras on the ISS capture Earth observations for scientific research and also provide incredibly beautiful views of our world.
Time-lapse videos stitch together images taken minutes apart to show changing weather patterns, shifting coastlines, city lights at night, and the thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere. These striking photos and videos remind us of the wonder, fragility, and unity of the planet we call home.
5. Host Astronauts From Many Countries
The International Space Station brings together astronauts from around the world to live and work in space. Over 241 individuals from 19 countries have visited the ISS since 2000, cooperating to further space exploration. At any given time, the station houses crew members from multiple nations, including the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and several European countries.
The diversity of backgrounds and experiences of these astronauts contributes to the ISS’s mission. Working together, they conduct scientific experiments, make repairs, capture amazing photos of Earth, and push the boundaries of human spaceflight. This international cooperation demonstrates both the vast potential and the inherent unity of the human race.
6. Enable Testing of Spacecraft Docking Procedures
The ISS serves as a vital platform for practicing docking maneuvers in space. Various spacecraft such as cargo vehicles and crew capsules must be able to safely and reliably link up with the station in order to deliver supplies, experiments, and people. Both automated and manual docking procedures are tested extensively at the ISS before being used for actual missions.
Astronauts and cosmonauts regularly rehearse carefully choreographed orbital rendezvous and docking operations using the station’s ports. These docking tests allow space agencies to validate spacecraft systems and train personnel, reducing risk for future missions. With busy traffic coming and going from the ISS today, and plans for missions to the Moon and Mars tomorrow, the ability to test and perfect docking techniques is indispensable.
7. Provide a Platform for Educational Outreach
In addition to its research and exploration capabilities, the International Space Station serves as an engaging educational platform. Live video feeds and educational programs allow students around the world to connect with astronauts and cosmonauts working aboard the ISS. Students can ask questions directly and participate in experiments happening in microgravity. The excitement of seeing real people living and working in space inspires many young people to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Educational projects on the ISS like Sally Ride EarthKAM give classrooms hands-on opportunities to direct cameras on the station. Outreach events on the ISS feature astronauts demonstrating principles of physics and biology in creative ways. With its ability to capture imaginations worldwide, the space station continues to play a vital role in shaping future generations of space explorers and researchers.
8. Conduct Earth Observation and Environmental Monitoring
From 250 miles above Earth, the ISS offers a unique view. It’s great for observing the Earth and tracking environmental shifts. Its cameras and sensors monitor the Amazon’s deforestation, Arctic ice melt, and coral reef health. This data helps us grasp climate change and its global effects.
The ISS also aids in disaster response. It offers timely images of hurricanes, floods, and fires. This helps relief teams and first responders act effectively. Through its research, the ISS boosts our understanding of Earth, promoting its long-term habitability.
9. Test Life Support and Habitation Systems for Deep Space Travel
As NASA sets its sights on longer-duration missions deeper into space, the ISS serves as a testbed for advanced life support systems needed to keep astronauts alive and healthy. Experiments aboard the ISS allow researchers to evaluate how the human body responds to extended exposure to microgravity, including its effects on bone density, muscle mass, vision, and the immune system. The station also provides a platform for assessing habitation modules that future Mars-bound astronauts may live in for months at a time.
Environmental control systems are tested to scrub carbon dioxide from the air, recycle wastewater, and manage other aspects of crew health and hygiene over long periods. Psychological support systems are also assessed to keep astronauts productive and happy during prolonged confinement. Lessons learned aboard the ISS today will directly inform the spacecraft and habitat designs that will take humanity back to the Moon and eventually to Mars.
10. Study Materials Science and Combustion Science
The microgravity environment aboard the ISS allows for materials science research not possible on Earth. Researchers can observe flame spread over fuels, crystallization processes, fluid dynamics, and more without the confounding effects of gravity. These studies lead to an improved understanding of how materials behave at the molecular level, enabling the development of new alloys, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, optics, and other products.
The ISS also facilitates combustion science experiments to better understand how fuels burn and control flammability. Results support improved fuel efficiency, reduced pollutant production, and fire prevention and suppression methods for spacecraft as well as applications here on Earth. By using the space station as an orbiting laboratory, researchers expand scientific knowledge that benefits space exploration while also improving safety and products on Earth.
11. Develop New Medicines in Near Zero-Gravity
The microgravity environment on the ISS allows researchers to grow larger, purer protein crystals than possible on Earth. These high-quality crystals enable more accurate mapping of protein structures, advancing pharmaceutical development and disease treatment research. Companies leverage the ISS to test the effects of microgravity on cellular growth and gene expression.
Results further understanding of cell cultures and growth patterns, supporting improved methods for drug discovery and delivery. Experiments aboard the ISS lead to innovative biotechnology that benefits human health. By using the unique properties of space to support biotech research and development, the ISS facilitates medical advancements that enhance quality of life.
12. Conduct Space Weather Research
The ISS provides a platform in space to study space weather phenomena like solar storms. Sensors on the outside of the station monitor conditions in real time. This data improves understanding of how solar activity affects Earth’s magnetic field, atmosphere, and technological systems.
For example, better forecasts help protect satellites and power grids from disruptions due to solar flares. Detailed images of the sun support modeling of energetic outbursts. Research about the impact of space weather leads to more accurate predictions and protective measures here on Earth. The unique vantage point of the ISS enables groundbreaking science to safeguard our planet.
13. Enable Commercial Research and Technology Demonstrations
In the ISS’s unique microgravity, researchers conduct special investigations. Commercial companies can send experiments to the ISS through NASA’s program. Research covers biotechnology, material science, fluid physics, and combustion. For instance, Made In Space tested a 3D printer on the ISS in 2014. This allowed off-Earth part creation for the first time.
The ISS also lets private companies showcase space technologies. NanoRacks tested equipment like smallsats on the station. This commercial use of the ISS boosts the low-Earth orbit economy. It also paves the way for future private space stations.
What Is the Purpose of the Space Station?
The main purposes of the space station are to conduct scientific research, test new technologies, and provide a platform for education and international cooperation in space. The microgravity environment allows researchers to perform experiments that are not possible on Earth.
How Many People Live on the Space Station?
The space station is designed to house a crew of up to 7 people at a time. Crews rotate every 3-6 months, so the total number of people who have lived on the station is over 240 people from 19 different countries.
Why Do Scientists Need a Space Station?
A space station provides a unique environment for research that cannot be duplicated on Earth. Extended periods of microgravity allow for studies on the effects of weightlessness on the human body and other biological organisms. The space station also provides an excellent vantage point for Earth and space observations.
What Are 4 Facts About the Space Station?
The space station orbits Earth at an altitude of approximately 250 miles. It travels at a speed of about 17,500 mph to remain in orbit. The pressurized living space is larger than a 6-bedroom house. Over 3 million lines of software code run the space station systems.
The International Space Station is a remarkable achievement in science and engineering. It provides a platform for conducting research, testing technologies, and international cooperation in space. Key things the space station does include hosting crews of astronauts for months at a time, providing an orbiting laboratory for microgravity experiments, testing systems needed for future missions deeper into space, and capturing amazing images and footage of Earth. After over 20 years of continuous operation, the space station continues to demonstrate the value of humans living and working in space over long periods.