As of January 2012, there has been a continuous human presence in space for 11 years and 1 month. This technological record has only been set by the construction and staffing of the International Space Station (ISS), the largest space station to date (“The Sustainable,” pg. 4). Many people, though, don't see any reason for such an outpost in space. However, the ISS provides countless perks to people on Earth from all walks of life. Due to its advancement of space technology, its strengthening of international bonds, and its numerous benefits to life on Earth, the International Space Station is a worthwhile investment.
The most obvious worth of the ISS is in its furtherance of space technology. First off, the ISS allows the in-space testing of spaceflight technologies in a relatively controlled situation. Techniques, systems, and technology useful for spaceflight to the Moon or Mars can be tested aboard the ISS, near the earth, for less money, time, and hassle than testing them farther away (Kauderer, par. 11). William Gerstenmaier, a NASA Official, points out that “the ISS provides a unique opportunity to flight test components and systems in . . . space . . . such as closed-loop life support, EVA suits, energy storage, and automated rendezvous and docking.” Orbital testing of these and other systems leads to decreased missions risk, protecting the astronauts and spacecraft that venture into the hazardous conditions of outer space (“The Sustainable, pg. 13”). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asserts that the International Space Station is “a vital test bed for getting [to Mars]” and an “anchor for the future of human exploration” (Chow, par. 1).
But ISS technology does not only help missions far from earth; one relatively unknown fact about living in space is that it damages bones and muscles. Research on the ISS has made, and continues to make, advances in countering the effects of long stays in space on the human body. According to Tetsuo Tanaka, the Director of Japan's Space Environment Utilization Center, researchers have studied “the cellular basis for variation in bone[s] . . . and . . . muscle mass, in order to understand why long stays in space cause bone loss and muscle atrophy” (Tanaka, par. 8). Theses two counter-effects of long stays in space must be overcome to enable long-duration space missions beyond the Earth and Moon. The ISS has also allowed commercial companies to test their space designs, such as Ad Astra's VASMIR Engine which is scheduled to be tested on the ISS this year (Grossman, par. 15). The ISS is the ideal place to test new space technology.
The International Space Station has another glaring benefit to life on Earth: the fact that it is international. The ISS brings together over 14 nations working on one project, including the US, Russia, the European Space Agency (ESA), and Japan (“The Sustainable,” pg. 5). As space missions to farther destinations most likely become multinational efforts, the...