What Would You Do with the International Space Station?

The International Space Station (ISS) is the epitome of human ingenuity. Through the collaboration of seven space agencies (representing 17 nations), the modular orbital outpost has been undergoing construction since 1998 and it is projected to be completed in 2011. By 2016, the ISS is expected to be retired.

The ISS has proven itself to be a long-term answer for manned habitation in space, where astronauts and cosmonauts are able to enjoy the relative comfort the spacious modules provide, often up to six months at a time. A vast array of experiments have been carried out on the station; from studying effects of weightlessness on the human physiology to understanding how plants and animals evolve in a microgravity environment; from observing the human impact on Earth’s environment to studying zero-gravity fluid dynamics. Pretty much every discipline has been investigated.

All of the experiences on the ISS go toward understanding how mankind can function in space, helping us understand where we fit into the Solar System. The work being carried out by the various expeditions being flown to the station will all be used when we make the great push to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

This all sounds amazing, but is it worth it? Is the ISS really living up to all its expectations? After all, the ISS will be bypassed if we do eventually make the trip the Moon (if the ISS hasn’t already been retired by then), it has never been a “stepping stone” beyond Earth orbit. Also, has the ISS done anything different? Surely other space stations such as Mir and Skylab aided mankind’s study on how zero-G affects the human body, how many biological tests do we need?

Astroengine Live Discussion
I am interested as to what people have to say about this issue. Is the ISS a worthy endeavour, worth the billions of dollars ploughed into it every year? Or should the station be re-vamped? Perhaps there is another application for the ISS beyond carrying out microgravity experiments in orbit?

For Astroengine Live on Wednesday 19th November, I will allot some time to discuss the International Space Station purely to talk about your views on the subject.

What would you do with/on the space station?

Feel free to leave your answers/discussion below (or email me) including your name/alias and I’ll include your opinion in Astroengine Live’s debut show this Wednesday, starting at 7pm EST (4pm PST).

(Information on how to listen in/phone in to WPRT Radio will be coming soon…)

Watch Your Heads! Space Station Junk to Hit Earth Today

Somewhere, sometime today, the Early Ammonia Servicer (EAS) will drop to Earth at 100 mph.

The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)
The EAS as photographed by the ISS crew in 2007 (NASA)

A huge piece of space junk discarded from the space station in 2007 will drop through the atmosphere some time today (Sunday). The Early Ammonia Servicer, otherwise known as the EAS, was detached from the orbiting outpost as its services were no longer required. The double-refrigerator-sized piece of equipment weighs 635 kg (1400 lb) and is filled with toxic ammonia. Although NASA believes most of its mass will disintegrate during re-entry, there’s a real chance of up to 15 pieces of the EAS reaching the ground, the largest piece could weigh up to 17.5 kg (40 lb).

But here’s the funny thing, as the EAS is currently skirting along the outermost reaches of the atmosphere, we are uncertain as to when, or where, the re-entry will take place. NASA and U.S. Space Surveillance Network scientists have done well to narrow the re-entry window down to one day. Fortunately, 70% of the planet is covered in water, so we should be fine. But should any parts of the EAS find solid ground, NASA has warned that we shouldn’t approach any suspicious-looking (and probably steaming) bits of meteorite in case the EAS still has some ammonia on board…
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The Shuttle Could Fly Beyond 2010

Could the Shuttle be revived until 2015? (NASA)
Could the Shuttle be revived until 2015? (NASA)

Whether you are surprised by this news or not, it is a big development for the future of NASA. An internal email within the space agency has instructed staff to begin preliminary planning for a feasibility study into extending the life of the Space Shuttle fleet until 2015. This isn’t a one year extension, this isn’t just one extra flight, this is a full five year extension beyond the scheduled decommissioning date set by NASA.

This email, although downplayed by NASA sources, appears to show a U-turn in the political climate behind the agency’s closed doors. So what prompted the decision to commence a feasibility study? Could the Shuttle be safely flown after 2010?
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US Practices Retroactive Computer Protection: NASA Hacker to be Extradited

Gary McKinnon being interviewed via phone by Jerry Pippin (jerrypippin.com)
Gary McKinnon being interviewed via phone by Jerry Pippin (jerrypippin.com)

Gary McKinnon, a British computer analyst, has failed in his appeal against extradition to the US. McKinnon is accused of accessing 97 US military and NASA computers during his search for information about a possible US government conspiracy to cover up the existence of UFOs. According to the Glasgow-born 42 year old, the computers he accessed were totally unprotected and surprisingly easy to hack. However, the US government says his actions were malicious and the biggest breach of US government computers of all time. McKinnon’s activities allowed him access to 16 NASA computers between 2001 and 2002.

For the record, it is my opinion that McKinon is the victim of his own curiosity. He most certainly is not an organized terrorist wanting to bring down the US government. What’s more the UK has tough laws that he can be prosecuted by, so why is he being extradited to a country where he has never set foot before? Having followed this unfolding story for some years, I feel compelled to mention it on Astroengine.com. This man should not be extradited. The apparent ease at which this individual walked into NASA networks is astonishing; it’s not McKinon that needs to be taken to court, it’s NASA’s Internet security experts who need to be taken to task…
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Computer Worm Infects International Space Station

The ISS crew are currently trying to purge on board computers of the W32.Gammima.AG worm (NASA)
The ISS crew are currently trying to purge on board computers of the W32.Gammima.AG worm (NASA)

International Space Station (ISS) software security has been brought into question after on board systems were infected by a computer virus earlier this month. This is possibly the first time that a computer in space has played host to a malicious piece of software code, intended to seek out installed online gaming software and then transmit sensitive information it to an attacker. Although the virus in question, known as the W32.Gammima.AG worm, is pretty harmless (after all, I don’t think the astronauts on board play many online games), the infection comes as a surprise. Why hasn’t the ISS got sufficient anti-virus software installed? How did this security breech pass unnoticed until now? The space station may have narrowly dodged the bullet on this one, as if the worm was a little more virulent, there aren’t many network managers between here and low Earth orbit to find a quick solution to the problem…
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