Examples of the types of U.S. research that will be or has been performed aboard the station include:
· Protein crystal studies: More pure protein crystals may be grown in space than on Earth. Analysis of these crystals helps scientists better understand the nature of proteins, enzymes and viruses, perhaps leading to the development of new drugs and a better understanding of the fundamental building blocks of life. Similar experiments have been conducted on the Space Shuttle, although they are limited by the short duration of Shuttle flights. This type of research could lead to the study of possible treatments for cancer, diabetes, emphysema and immune system disorders, among other research.
· Tissue culture: Living cells can be grown in a laboratory environment in space where they are not distorted by gravity. NASA already has developed a Bioreactor device that is used on Earth to simulate, for such cultures, the effect of reduced gravity. Still, these devices are limited by gravity. Growing cultures for long periods aboard the station will further advance this research. Such cultures can be used to test new treatments for cancer without risking harm to patients, among other uses.
· Life in low gravity: The effects of long-term exposure to reduced gravity on humans – weakening muscles; changes in how the heart, arteries and veins work; and the loss of bone density, among others – will be studied aboard the station. Studies of these effects may lead to a better understanding of the body’s systems and similar ailments on Earth. A thorough understanding of such effects and possible methods of counteracting them is needed to prepare for future long-term human exploration of the solar system. In addition, studies of the gravitational effects on plants, animals and the function of living cells will be conducted aboard the station. A centrifuge, located in the Centrifuge Accommodation Module, will use centrifugal force to generate simulated gravity ranging from almost zero to twice that of Earth. This facility will imitate Earth’s gravity for comparison purposes; eliminate variables in experiments; and simulate the gravity on the Moon or Mars for experiments that can provide information useful for future space travels.
· Flames, fluids and metal in space: Fluids, flames, molten metal and other materials will be the subject of basic research on the station. Even flames burn differently without gravity. Reduced gravity reduces convection currents, the currents that cause warm air or fluid to rise and cool air or fluid to sink on Earth. This absence of convection alters the flame shape in orbit and allows studies of the combustion process that are impossible on Earth, a research field called Combustion Science. The absence of convection allows molten metals or other materials to be mixed more thoroughly in orbit than on Earth. Scientists plan to study this field, called Materials Science, to create better metal alloys and more perfect materials for applications such as computer chips. The study of all of these areas may lead to developments that can enhance many industries on Earth.
· The nature of space: Some experiments aboard the station will take place on the exterior of the station modules. Such exterior experiments can study the space environment and how long-term exposure to space, the vacuum and the debris, affects materials. This research can provide future spacecraft designers and scientists a better understanding of the nature of space and enhance spacecraft design. Some experiments will study the basic forces of nature, a field called Fundamental Physics, where experiments take advantage of weightlessness to study forces that are weak and difficult to study when subject to gravity on Earth. Experiments in this field may help explain how the universe developed. Investigations that use lasers to cool atoms to near absolute zero may help us understand gravity itself. In addition to investigating basic questions about nature, this research could lead to down-to-Earth developments that may include clocks a thousand times more accurate than today’s atomic clocks; better weather forecasting; and stronger materials.
· Watching the Earth: Observations of the Earth from orbit help the study of large-scale, long-term changes in the environment. Studies in this field can increase understanding of the forests, oceans and mountains. The effects of volcanoes, ancient meteorite impacts, hurricanes and typhoons can be studied. In addition, changes to the Earth that are caused by the human race can be observed. The effects of air pollution, such as smog over cities; of deforestation, the cutting and burning of forests; and of water pollution, such as oil spills, are visible from space and can be captured in images that provide a global perspective unavailable from the ground.
· Commercialization: As part of the Commercialization of space research on the station, industries will participate in resear