The International Space Station (ISS) is a research facility currently being assembled in outer space, the on-orbit construction of which began in 1998. The space station is in a Low Earth Orbit and can be seen from Earth with the naked eye; it orbits at an altitude of approximately 350 km above the surface of the Earth, and travels at an average speed of 27,700 kilometers per hour, completing 15.7 orbits per day.

The space station is a joint project among the space agencies of the United States (NASA), Russia (RKA), Japan (JAXA), Canada (CSA), and ten European nations (ESA). The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB, Brazil) participates through a separate contract with NASA. The Italian Space Agency similarly has separate contracts for various activities not done in the framework of ESA’s ISS works (where Italy also fully participates). China has reportedly expressed interest in the project, especially if it was able to work with the RKA, although as of 2008 it is not involved.

The ISS is a continuation of several other previously planned space stations; Russia’s Mir-2, the US Space Station Freedom, the European Columbus laboratory, and the Japanese Kib? laboratory. The projected completion date is 2011, with the station remaining in operation until at least 2016. As of 2008, the ISS is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit, larger than any previous space station.

Scientific Research

One of the main goals of the ISS is to provide a place to conduct experiments that require one or more of the unusual conditions present on the station. The main fields of research include biology (including biomedical research and biotechnology), physics (including fluid physics, materials science, and quantum physics), astronomy (including cosmology), and meteorology.[40][41] The 2005 NASA Authorization Act designated the US segment of the International Space Station as a national laboratory with the goal to increase the utilization of the ISS by other Federal entities and the private sector.

Scientific Modules

The Destiny laboratory is the main research facility aboard the ISS. Produced by NASA and launched in February 2001, it is a research facility for general experiments, providing space for 24 International Standard  Payload Racks, some of which are used for environmental systems and living equipment. Destiny also features a 20-inch, optically perfect window, the largest such window ever produced for use in space. [42][43]

The Columbus module is another research facility, designed and built by the European Space Agency Launched in February 2008, it provides a generic laboratory as well as facilities specifically designed for biology, biomedical research, and fluid physics. The laboratory also provides external mounting locations for experiments such as the European Technology Exposure Facility, Solar Monitoring Observatory, Materials International Space info Station Experiment, and Atomic Clock Ensemble in Space. A number of expansions are planned to study quantum physics and cosmology.

The Japanese Experiment Module, also known as Kib?, was put in service during STS-124 on 3 June 2008. It was developed by JAXA to function as an observatory and to gather astronomical data. The module also does not provides an external platform, the Exposed Facility, that allows payloads to be directly exposed to the harsh space ad environment, and which is serviced by the module’s own robotic arm, the JEM-RMS.

The station is also planned to carry a particle physics experiment, called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), which will be launched on STS-134 and mounted externally on the Integrated Truss Structure. The AMS will search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays, and its experiments will help researchers study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.

The Ex-PRESS Logistics Carriers, developed by NASA, is set to be launched for the ISS beginning with STS-129, which is expected to take place no earlier than 11 September 2009. They will allow experiments to be deployed and conducted in the vacuum of space and will provide the necessary electricity and computing to locally process data from experiments. Finally, the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, created by the RKA, is expected to launch in December 2011 and will be the primary Russian laboratory on the station. It will supply the proper resources for general microgravity experiments.

Several planned research modules have been canceled, including the Centrifuge Accommodations Module (used to produce varying levels of artificial gravity) and two Russian Research Modules (used for general experimentation).

Areas of Research

A comparison between fire on Earth (left) and fire in a microgravity environment, such as that found on the ISS (right).

There are a number of plans to study biology on the ISS. One goal is to improve understanding of the effect of long-term space exposure on the human body. Subjects such as muscle atrophy, bone loss, and fluid shifts are studied with the intention to use this data so space colonization and lengthy space travel can become feasible (at present levels of bone loss and muscular atrophy, there would be a significant risk of fractures and movement problems if astronauts landed on an extraterrestrial planet following a lengthy space cruise). The effect of near-weightlessness on evolution, development, and growth, and the internal processes of plants and animals are also studied. In response to recent data suggesting that microgravity enables the growth of three-dimensional human body-like tissues and that unusual protein crystals can be formed in space, NASA has indicated a desire to al investigate these phenomena.

Prominent physics problems are also studied – the physics of fluids in microgravity are not completely understood, and researchers would like to be able to accurately model fluids in the future. Also, since fluids in space can be combined nearly completely regardless of their relative weights, there is some interest in investigating the e combination of fluids that would not mix well on Earth. By examining reactions that are slowed down by low gravity al and temperatures, scientists also hope to gain new insight concerning states of matter (specifically in regards to superconductivity).

Researchers also hope to examine combustion in the presence of less gravity than on Earth. Any findings involving the efficiency of the burning or the creation of byproducts could improve the process of energy production, which would be of economic and environmental interest. Scientists plan to use the ISS to examine aerosols, ozone, water vapor, and oxides in Earth’s atmosphere as well as cosmic rays, cosmic dust, antimatter, and dark matter in the Universe.

The long-term goals of this research are to develop the technology necessary for human-based space and d planetary exploration and colonization (including life support systems, safety precautions, environmental monitoring in space), new ways to treat diseases, more efficient methods of producing materials, more accurate measurements than would be possible to achieve on Earth, and a more complete understanding of the Universe.


NASA’s Mars Robotic Mission (MAVEN): NASA has selected a Mars robotic mission that will provide information about the Red Planet’s atmosphere, climate history, and potential habitability in greater detail than ever before, in 2013. Called the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, the 485 million dollar mission is scheduled for launch in late 2013. The selection was evaluated to have the best science value and lowest implementation risk from 20 mission investigating proposals submitted in response to a NASA Announcement of Opportunity in August 2006. This mission will provide the first direct measurements ever taken to address key scientific questions about Mars’ evolution. Mars once had a denser atmosphere that supported the presence of liquid water on eth surface. As part of a dramatic climate change. Most of the Martian atmosphere was lost MAVEN will make definitive scientific measurements of the present-day atmospheric sphere has been an ongoing mystery MAVEN will help to solve it.

After arriving at Mars in the fall of 2014, MAVEN will use its propulsion system to enter an elliptical orbit ranging 90 to 3,870 miles above the planet. The spacecraft’s eight science instruments will take measurements during a full Earth year, which is roughly equivalent to half of a Martian year. MAVEN also will dip to an altitude of 80 miles above the planet to sample Mars’ entire upper atmosphere. During and after its primary science mission the spacecraft may be used to provide communications relay support for robotic missions on the Martian surface. MAVEN will obtain critical measurements that the National Academy of Science listed as being of high priority in their2003 decadal survey on planetary exploration.

2001 Mars Odyssey: The 2001 Mars Odyssey is the remaining part of the Mars Surveyor 2001 Project, which originally consisted of two separately launched missions, The Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter, and the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander. The lander spacecraft was canceled as part of the reorganization of the Mars Exploration Program of NASA. The orbiter renamed the 2001 Mars Odyssey, will nominally orbit Mars for three years, with the objective of conducting a detailed mineralogical analysis of the planet’s surface from orbit and measuring the radiation environment. The mission has as its primary science goals to gather data to help determine whether the environment on Mars was ever conducive to life, to characterize the climate and geology of Mars, and to study potential radiation hazards to possible future astronaut missions. The orbiter will also act as a communications relay for tore missions to Mars over a period of five years.

NASA’s Land Rover Probes – NASA successfully landed two land rovers Spirit and Opportunity on the mars in January 2004 to probe if Mars had ever had capable of sustaining life. The Data sent by them suggested that certain rock structures, were once immersed in H20 and the ground would have been conducive to life. It is now believed that about 3 billion years ago. Mars was warm enough to contain H20 in liquid form and had a habitable environment.

Mars Express Mission – It was the first Mars mission launched by a space agency. It started orbiting Mars form December 2003. It revealed the presence of H20, ice, and C02 and mars holds huge reserves of H2O in its southern hemisphere in December 2004. Mars Express’s mission indicated that the mars were volcanically active about 2 million years ago. And it has the potential to erupt again n the future. It also indicated the presence of CH4 in the atmosphere of mars which is believed to have escaped through the volcanic fissures. Thus it is possible that the interiors of Mars are hot and may hold H2O in liquid form. Thus it may be a potential home for micro-life.

Venus Exploration: Venus Express: The first European Mission to Venus

Venus Express is the first European Space Mission to this planet and the first mission to Venus in 10 years. It will study its atmosphere, surface, and space environment unveiling some of the mysteries that remain hidden by its thick clouds. Venus was once an Earth twin in size and probably atmospheric composition but its geological and atmospheric evolutions have made it an inhospitable planet with a surface temperature higher than 460ÂșC and atmospheric pressure 90 times larger than that on Earth. It is also covered by an extended system of clouds that extend over 20 km in height and are formed by sulfuric acid droplets. The clouds do not allow to observe directly the surface except by radar. This mission (launched in a record time since its proposal and approval) will cover many open questions that intrigue scientists today.

The research group is especially interested in the large-scale dynamics of the atmosphere at the cloud visible level (more than 50 km above the surface) the characterization of the cloud layers as well as the comparison of the atmospheres of Earth and Venus. They participate in the mission through VIRTIS (Visual Infra Red Thermal Imaging Spectrometer). It will obtain both images and spectra of the planet allowing us to study the clouds seen illuminated by Sunlight and the atmosphere at night through the output of infrared radiation from the warm lower levels. It was launched in 2006.

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