The establishment of International Space Station (ISS) took 12 years with major support from five nations in addition eleven other nations who made different level of contributions. US President Reagan was the brain behind ISS who then conceived the idea of a relatively permanent space station in 1984 and directed NASA to build it. At that time, many thought of the idea as braggadocio of American leadership after her outstanding success of sending people to moon under the Apollo 11 project fifteen years earlier. No one could imagine the critical role a permanent space station could play in human space exploration nearly four decades later. With American policy of consistency and leading role, the International Space Station became a reality and from November 2000 to date, the station has been continuously populated with scientists of different nationalities experimenting different theories and hypothesis.
As mentioned in the first part of this piece, ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by human crews, after the Soviet and Russian Salyut, Almaz and Mir stations as well as Skylab from the US. The station is serviced by a variety of visiting spacecraft: the Russian Soyuz and Progress, the US Dragon and Cygnus, the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, and the European Automated Transfer Vehicle and the rest of other crafts coming and leaving the station continuously. ISS is in deed a beehive of human activities in space. Now, what are the successes achieved in ISS and the prospects as the world moves towards a target year of 2028? The lifespan of ISS was initially planned to operate only up to the year 2020, but in 2014 the US decided to extend its life to 2024. Since then Russia has proposed to extend further the life of the ISS to 2028, and the US space agency NASA seemed ready to accept this new extension. Prospectively, it may reach a target of 2030. On the feats recorded in ISS, NASA alone has catalogue of experiments, which will benefit from extension of the life of the ISS for a few more years. For example, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, NASA’s particle physics detector, is researching “dark matter” using a setting that would not be possible on the Earth’s surface.
There are colossal achievements made in ISS by several nations from different continents of the world. First, ISS provides to U.S. and her partners an operational outpost in space, the most austere environment ever known in the history of humanity. Globally, ISS serves as a platform where more than 2,400 experiments have been conducted since it was first launched. ISS received more than 230 visitors from 18 countries in the last twenty years. In the August 2019 issue of online Journal “ Scientific America 175” Christian Zur wrote article, which stated; “The station’s crew have logged over 1,300 extravehicular activity (EVA) hours on more than 217 spacewalks”.
Few years back, Julie Robinson, NASA Space Station program scientist presented ten top achievements of ISS at the 64th International Astronautical Congress in Beijing, China. Among the achievements were, the result of investigation the effects of the space environment on the human body during long duration spaceflight. There is a considerable loss of bone and muscle mass of the astronauts during space mission. Using ISS, Astronauts are now able to address the bone loss that has historically accompanied long periods of weightless. Proper diet, including adequate amounts of vitamin D, and exercise are found to be the solution. Resistive exercise, like weight lifting on the Earth, is a recent addition and is now helping to prevent a similar terrestrial ailment such as osteoporosis. Understanding the metabolic processes that lead to osteoporosis and developing the medications and therapies for prevention is a good feat.
Another accomplishment is using optical instruments on the space station to assess water quality in the world’s coastal bays. This was hitherto an impossible task due to large volume of water and area coverage. In addition to this feat, there are a significant number of instruments in Earth remote sensing and astrophysics that are providing new access to data for various services on earth. This makes ISS to be a significant platform for understanding of the Earth system and the universe
Another breakthrough is the study of Combustion engine in the space, the so-called “cold flame”. Some of the research findings revealed more efficient ways of fuel consumption in mechanical power generation engines using combustion system.
Again Studies in ISS have shown increased virulence of bacteria in space. The findings point to possible vaccines, perhaps one to combat salmonella, which is responsible for 15,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths in the world annually. The activities in ISS are inspiring, mobilizing and teaching students across globe about the values of science, technology, engineering and math, or what famously referred as the “STEM fields”. This way the Space station crews and other activities have involved 63 million of the world’s students as at 2016 with additional 100s thousands from then to date. Among these ISS educational activities, over 43 million students came from 49 countries across the globe. These educational activities involved more than 28 million teachers located in different places within the 49 countries.
Another very important feat is research on “dark matter”, a substance that scientists are just beginning to understand. As a substance, “dark matter” is believed to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe and about a quarter of its total energy density. In fact, the universe is made up of matters. In ISS, there are series of studies of dark matter using the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an external observatory that was installed by space shuttle astronauts in 2011. No doubt, the results of these studies will substantially lead to discovery of mystery of space that is likely to advance the course of mankind.
Studies on robot technology are ongoing in ISS. There are improvements in robotics accomplished with the station’s Canadian built robot arms that are leading to improvements in brain surgery techniques. Another ongoing medical trial is “Microgravity micro-encapsulation”. This is a scientific concept using the weightless environment to develop drugs that can attack specific tumors with chemotherapy.
The global coverage of satellites offers a unique, fact-based perspective that can help us overcome our greatest challenges. Information from these spacecraft can help us improve agricultural yields and protect habitat loss and stop deforestation. They discovered the hole in the ozone layer and their data today remains key to fighting climate change; and they’ve helped us to connect the world through Internet and communication, an intangible service for millions. Satellites in space have done much for us so far and, in the future, they will offer much more. With access to the Internet comes increased knowledge sharing, the benefits of the best doctors and teachers via tele-medicine and education, and greater communication.
In conclusion, ISS is presently serving many countries as a platform to make advancement in space technology and thus, different nationals are assiduously and harmoniously working in respective of their ideological lineage, religious or political differences. As we move deep into 21st century, the economic, political and military powers will depend on technological superiority of a nation. Nations with less population and high technological advancement may have control over countries with large population as long as such countries lag behind technologically. The question is where is the place Africa particularly Nigeria in this global rat race? Nigeria has all it takes to build a sound technology to key into the global competition of superiority. With more than 10 millions university graduates of science and technology and over 200 research and development centers, it is just a matter of political will, commitment and dedication on the part leaders and the nation to make a giant step towards technological advancement. President Buhari has a golden opportunity to kick-start this process. Time waits for nobody.