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NASA Space The Almighty Buck Science

Is the ISS Really Worth $100 Billion? 503

Ponca City writes "JR Minkel writes on Space.com that as NASA celebrates the 10th anniversary of astronauts living on the space station — and with construction essentially complete — the question remains: will the International Space Station ever really pay off scientifically? The space agency contends that the weightless environment provided by the station offers a unique way of unmasking processes of cell growth and chemistry that are hidden on Earth, but some critics don't see a zero gravity laboratory as filling a crucial scientific need. Gregory Petsko, a biochemist at Brandeis University, says the only basic science justification he has ever heard for the station is that protein molecules form superior crystals in the microgravity of space than they do on Earth and a best-case scenario, in terms of return on investment, would be if a space-grown crystal were used to design a blockbuster pharmaceutical drug that worked by precisely targeting one of those proteins. Naturally NASA sees things differently. 'I think those who are naysayers haven't given us a chance — haven't given us enough time to show what we can do. We're just now turning the path to be able to go full force on our science. In the past we had to fit it in around assembly, we didn't have the facilities available, and the crew was always busy.'"
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Is the ISS Really Worth $100 Billion?

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  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:22PM (#34095662) Journal

    You wouldn't be typing your message out and transmitting it if the US Government hadn't underwritten much of the key R&D that went into it, not to mention the infrastructure.

    Or, to put it another way, you're an ignorant hypocrite.

  • by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @06:27PM (#34095720)

    There is nothing about research that makes me pay for a non-existent product.

    Most basic research takes decades to turn into a marketable product. To take my favorite example, X-ray crystallography, it took 25 years from the first experiments with protein crystals to actually determine a structure, then another 25 years for the method to mature enough for pharmaceutical companies to use it. Simultaneously, it also took 25 years for a particular type of particle accelerator to be recognized as useful for crystallography. There is simply no profit to be had in a reasonable amount of time from this kind of fundamental groundwork. The particle accelerators in particular cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Only a handful of companies in the world have enough money to spend on blind research like this. Even some of those would probably be at risk of shareholder lawsuits if they were devoting hundreds of millions on research of questionable use.

    I won't get into the issue of morality, because it's simply impossible to argue with someone who claims that "taxation is theft." Strictly from a free market standpoint, there is no financial incentive to invest in basic research without any hint of a future product. I personally think that the ISS has been a waste of time and money that has detracted from more promising space exploration projects, but none of this would happen if left to companies like, say, GE. (Private charities? I wish - only a handful of those can afford mega-projects, and they risk alienating major donors if something turns out to be a blind alley.)

  • List of experiments (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 01, 2010 @09:05PM (#34097092)

    Before you judge ISS please take some time to browse the list of experiments that have been performed onboard her to date.

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/Expedition.html [nasa.gov]

  • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @09:10PM (#34097124) Homepage

    Juan Williams and Mara Liasson are considered to be liberals on Fox because they worked for NPR. Both of them are conservatives. They were hired as conservative analysts by NPR because conservatives were complaining about lack of balance. Every Mara Liasson story is "this is how this event is good for the Republican party." She always refers to Republican presidents as "the President" or "President Bush" and disrespectfully refers to Democratic presidents as "Bill Clinton" and "Barak Obama" I have no idea who Shepherd Smith is, but by the Fox definition of liberal I expect he's a pseudo-libertarian who is somewhere to the right of George W. Bush.

    I have trouble coming up with the name of an NPR News commentator or reporter that comes off as liberal. Cokie Roberts certainly isn't a liberal. Everyone else keeps their mouth shut when it comes to political opinions. Steve Inskeep? Has he ever said anything political? Nina Totenberg once said Jesse Helms said something stupid. So did a lot of conservative columnists at the time. I don't give a damn about the non-news programming on NPR, because that's not being passed off as news. That's diametrically opposed to Fox News where anchors and reporters are encouraged to express political opinions and right wing myths as if they were fact. Why would a conservative want an NPR show anyway when they could make better money syndicating on right wing AM radio?

  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:34PM (#34097502)

    We had a space station back in the 70s before Mir.

  • Re:Wrong Question (Score:3, Informative)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday November 02, 2010 @02:45AM (#34098500) Homepage

    But CNN correspondents breathlessly ask Astronaut after Astronaut in "exclusive" interviews, taking up precious air time, "Considering the dangers, should we really keep putting men up into outer space?" Call me an Old Fossil, but I was there. Not once did Walter Cronkite ask the Apollo Astronauts this question.

    You may have been there - but you sure weren't paying attention. That question was asked repeatedly.

    Everyone here on Slashdot uses a computer for something. And I'll bet over 90% of slashdotters are using microcomputers to get on line. Microcomputers were developed based on needs by NASA to have computers that were light enough to be on a spacecraft because you couldn't fit a room-sized mainframe on an Apollo spacecraft or on the Lunar Excursion Module.

    Wrong. The Apollo and LEM guidance computers were based on the Polaris (SLBM) guidance computers - and were built with space qualified IC chips originally developed for the USAF and the USN for ballistic missiles.
    Microprocessors, the necessary precursor to microcomputers, wouldn't be developed for another decade - and when they were, they were developed by a commercial company for hand calculators.

    The last Apollo spacecraft was designed around 1967

    Wrong again - the basic design for Apollo was frozen in 1963 and did not undergo significant modification thereafter.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"