Newly launched space station crew members to continue scientific research
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to use the International Space Station "for fundamental biological and physical research to understand the effects of long-term space travel on human health and to test emerging technologies to enable such travel."
Such work has been under way since 2000 and is continuing. A crew with members from the United States, Russia and Canada began a mission to the space station on Sept. 30, 2009, on a Soyuz rocket launched from Kazakhstan. In orbit, ISS crew members will work on many of the 98 experiments that are currently being conducted on the space station. Of these, some address fundamental biological and physical questions. The total number of experiments is set to rise to 140 by the following mission.
A NASA report released on Sept. 10, 2009, detailed the scientific experiments already undertaken on the space station between 2000 and 2008. They addressed such topics as germs in spaceflight and materials able to withstand the harsh environment of space.
The ongoing experiments substantially fulfill Obama's promise, but it's also clear the Obama administration is taking steps to expand the space station work. Such efforts received support in a 12-page summary of findings that was released on Sept. 8, 2009, by the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee. The panel is more commonly known as the Augustine Committee after its chairman, Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin. In the document, the blue-ribbon panel — which is advising the White House and NASA on the future of the space program — reaffirmed its support for the space station and for its scientific projects.
"The committee finds that the return on investment of (the International Space Station) to both the United States and the international partners would be significantly enhanced by an extension of ISS life to 2020," the summary said. "It seems unwise to de-orbit the station after 25 years of assembly and only five years of operational life. Not to extend its operation would significantly impair U.S. ability to develop and lead future international space flight partnerships. Further, the ISS should be funded to enable it to achieve its full potential: as the nation's newest national laboratory, as an enhanced test bed for technologies and operational techniques that support exploration, and as a framework that can support expanded international collaboration."
Keeping this promise wasn't very hard for Obama, since his wording was very broad and fundamental scientific experiments were under way on the space station for nine years before he even took the oath of office. But Obama has continued the program, and the Augustine panel's summary clearly supports continued operations for the space station and backing for its scientific mission. For this reason, we rate this a Promise Kept.
U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee,
, Sept. 8, 2009
NASA, news release on report about scientific work on the International Space Station, Sept. 10, 2009
NASA, "Expedition 21 Crew Launches From Kazakhstan" Web article , Sept. 30, 2009
Interviews with NASA Johnson Space Center spokesman Kelly Humphries, Sept. 22-23, 2009
E-mail interviews with Edward Ellegood, space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, September 2009
E-mail interviews with Marcia Smith of spacepolicyonline.com, September 2009