From its inception, the International Space Station has been a collaborative, multi-nation program promoting peaceful cooperation for the betterment of humanity. For the past 15 years, the space station has done just that as an engineering marvel and microgravity research outpost.
Now, participants at a United Nations subcommittee meeting in Vienna are learning firsthand about the benefits of the research underway aboard the space station. Julie Robinson, Ph.D., chief scientist for the orbiting laboratory, spoke to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (U.N. COPUOS) Tuesday, Feb. 18.
The STSC is holding its 51st session Feb. 10-21 in Vienna. While there, Robinson represented the space station program, the largest and most complex peaceful scientific collaboration in history, with five member space agencies representing 15 countries.
During the International Space Exploration Forum held in January in Washington, the Obama Administration announced it is committing the United States to extending space station operations to at least 2024. More than 80 nations have used the station to date, and the extension will ensure the station continues to serve as a pathfinder for future human and robotic space exploration endeavors for years to come. It will serve as a destination in low-Earth orbit as the U.S. commercial space sector matures, and it will continue to enable science research, technology developments, new discoveries and returns for the benefit of humanity.
“With [the International Space Station] planned for the next decade and likely beyond, this is no time to rest, but to ramp up and make full use of this amazing laboratory,” Robinson recently wrote on her official blog, A Lab Aloft. “NASA is pleased to provide a status on the progress of the United States and its international partners to the U.N. as we look forward to bringing even more peaceful benefits for humanity back to Earth from orbit.”
The space station is an unprecedented achievement in global human endeavors to conceive, plan, build, operate and use a research platform in space. During its tenure thus far, more than 1,500 investigations have been conducted and extraordinary international scientific and technical accomplishments are being realized. In addition to serving as a foundation that will further our quest to explore space, the station also is bringing tangible research benefits home.
“Now is the time for microgravity studies to come into their own. While these future endeavors are fascinating, I am especially touched by the ways such findings return for expanded use on the ground,” wrote Robinson. “Whether addressing health concerns, advancing engineering designs or inspiring the next generation, the [International Space Station] may have already secured its place in history, but we are far from mission end. If anything, we have only just begun.”
Robinson’s presentation at the STSC of the U.N. COPUOS highlighted the space station’s benefits to humanity in the area of human health. She identified specific activities and technologies stemming from the orbiting outpost and how they contribute to addressing global health priorities and obstacles. These activities and technologies include research conducted on astronaut health such as experiments to understand bone loss and develop countermeasures, as well as telemedicine advancements that facilitate remote diagnostics.
“With so much to be proud of in our 15 years of assembly and operations, it’s not surprising we have plenty to look forward to,” Robinson wrote. “From my perspective, I am particularly excited to see what [International Space Station] researchers will discover next.”