The Earth ceased to be the sole place in the universe that people could call "home" more than twenty years ago. Three men made history on November 2nd, 2000, when they became the first people to live outside of Earth. On the International Space Station (ISS), which had been launched two years earlier, Russians Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev and Americans William Shepherd orbited the planet for 141 days. As of this writing in November 2020, 241 people from 19 different countries were living on the ISS.
But the station has evolved into one of the most distinctive laboratories available to researchers in addition to serving as a place to live. The station, which travels roughly 250 miles above our planet, can assist researchers here on Earth in finding answers to problems concerning biology, physics, astronomy, and even medicine. Here are a some of the most important findings made on the ISS.
The survival of life in space, including that of bacteria, plants, animals, and humans, has long been a subject of study. According to NASA, over 108 countries' worth of experts have conducted approximately 3,000 scientific studies in the ISS' microgravity laboratory during the past 20 years.
Such research has given us the ability to examine how we can get astronauts ready for upcoming missions to farther reaches of the cosmos. In 2017, crew members took a sample of a bacterium living within the space station, extracted its DNA, and sequenced it for the first time without sending it back to Earth. This was a significant advancement that sped up and improved the effectiveness of research.
If astronauts ever set out on lengthier voyages to places like Mars, they will not only have to contend with the strange microbial composition of the spaceship atmosphere. Food supply will be crucial, which is why the United States deployed Veggie, its first space garden, to the International Space Station in 2014. Russian cosmonauts had grown dwarf wheat, leafy mizuna, and dwarf peas in the previous ten years. They were insufficient to feed the astronauts, though. After receiving official approval for its safety, NASA astronauts consumed their first serving of lettuce grown in space on August 10th, 2015. As of right now, radishes are growing there, claims the agency.
NASA has also carefully examined how microgravity affects the human body, with the "twin study" constituting the largest endeavour. The project, which was launched in 2015, followed astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, who are identical twins. Mark remained on Earth while Scott completed a year in the ISS. Ten American research teams investigated every aspect of the two men's physiological, biochemical, and cognitive function throughout that time, including their gene expression, bone density, and microbiota. Researchers compared the measurements once Scott had returned to Earth. They discovered that, despite some of Scott's genes having a different expression, practically all of them remained remarkably similar to those of his twin brother.
Additionally, the station has helped fight sickness. Without the influence of gravity, cells can be studied to reveal hitherto undiscovered traits, propensities, and therapeutic responses. Researchers examined cutting-edge cancer treatments including Angiex Cancer Therapy, which may be able to stop the growth of tumours. Additionally, they tried to determine the structures of proteins that cause disease, such as the one linked to the hereditary ailment Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). The station has also conducted research on ailments including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or asthma.
However, the ISS has also improved our understanding of life on our "pale blue dot." The ISS, which is orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes and moving at a speed of five miles per second, allows its six-person crew to observe 16 sunrises and sunsets each day. The station can collect real-time data on changes in our planet's climate, carbon storages in forests, and plant water stress thanks to its quick orbit. Furthermore, according to NASA, astronauts can "take pictures of calamities like storms and fires throughout their evolution, capturing cloud cover, flooding, and changes to the terrain."
We have gained new knowledge about states of matter like gases, solids, liquids, and plasmas thanks to the ISS, which has also allowed us to delve further into physics. In 2018, the ISS's ultracold atom laboratories created a fifth state of matter. The substance, known as the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), had been synthesised for the first time in 1995, but it was the first time it had been made successfully outside of our planet.
Additionally, it is now able to burn fuel without a clear, intense flame because to the station's exceptional microgravity environment. The phenomena known as "cool flames" that the researchers saw may be helpful in the development of less-polluting automobiles. According to NASA, the flames created at the ISS burned for minutes as opposed to the cool flames created on Earth, which flicker out in a matter of seconds, allowing scientists to have a better look at them.
Of course, scientists also use the ISS to learn more about the universe in addition to studying Earth. One experiment, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02 (AMS-02), was launched on May 16, 2011, and it gathers information on cosmic rays and particles to help scientists understand the composition of the cosmos and how it came into being. The AMS-02 passed the landmark of gathering information on more than 100 billion cosmic particles in 2017.
A mystery new X-ray source in the sky was photographed in 2018 by the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) tool from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Immediately starting to track the source, NASA's Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) discovered that it was a black hole binary system. Astronomers were able to gain a better understanding of how the inner edge of black holes changes when they are consuming a star by tracking the history of the system, which finally became the brightest X-ray source in the sky.
Numerous fields of science have greatly benefited from the International Space Station's 20+ years of investigation. But it's also just the beginning; in October 2020, the astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) conducted experiments to see if microgravity affects their ability to visually interact, collected blood and urine samples to understand ageing in space, spoke on the radio with high school students, took photos to further study the movement of colloids (substances that are neither liquid nor solid, like toothpaste), and checked the growth of the radishes they planted back in September. They went to sleep in the place they now call home when their workdays were done.