Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Building the space station

If the weather cooperates, in one hour the space shuttle Discovery will launch for yet another construction mission to the International Space Station (anyone else remember when President Reagan announced that it would be called Space Station Freedom?)

This shuttle mission will finally (nine years after the first part was launched!) move the space station toward fulfilling it's stated mission: science. The Harmony module, which will be added during this flight, is where science laboratories from the European Space Agency and from Japan will be attached, with the European Lab being launched on the next shuttle flight in December. The new module also adds three more sleeping berths, allowing up to six astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts, and whoever else to stay on the space station.

The space station is a great engineering feat, and the astronauts who have risked their lives to build it have my deepest respect. But it has been a long, expensive, and painful process, and I find myself wondering if the science that will come out of the space station will be worth the cost. I really don't know. And, I don't know how long the ISS will be operational -- the Soviet/Russian Mir Space Station operated for 15 years, and it was getting harrowing toward the end.

At any rate, my best wishes go with the men and women onboard Discovery, and I wish them a safe and productive journey.

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