[From the SciGuy Blog, The Houston Chronicle, originally posted on December 31, 2010.]
11 for ’11: Julie Robinson on spaceflight
During the holiday season I’ve invited 11 of the greater Houston area’s top scientific minds to share a few words on something — a trend, a discovery or an insight — in their field that excites them as they look ahead to the next few years. A new entry in the 11 for ’11 series will be published each morning.
Today’s insight comes from Julie Robinson, chief scientist for the International Space Station.
The International Space Station — the most capable laboratory ever in space — becomes fully available to scientists in 2011. Managed as a National Laboratory, the entire nation will have access for research.
Often critics of the space station, the editors of the journal Nature recently recognized the importance of the laboratory, writing: “In a time of austerity, [researchers] have been handed the ultimate luxury: a new frontier for research that is limited only by their imagination.”
Early use of the space station for research shows compelling possibilities for what scientists will learn. Cellular and microbial biology is poised to make substantial advances. Already, new mechanisms of Salmonella bacteria virulence have been discovered. There are strong indicators that studies of cell differentiation and tissue formation in space could be transforming.
Seeing the station’s potential, the National Institutes of Health have already selected experiments to make use of the laboratory for research that cannot be done on Earth. These studies look at broad areas of human health, including bone remodeling, immune function, and barrier functions of intestinal lining.
Risking scientific whiplash to shift focus to fundamental physics, 2011 will also see the launch of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. This state-of-the-art instrument, developed by hundreds of scientists around the globe, will study the formation of the universe and seek to understand dark matter itself.
From the cosmos to genes in bacteria, the space station is the laboratory to watch for discoveries that could never occur at an Earth-bound lab as the era of space station utilization begins.
To see the rest of the 11 for ’11 essays, click here.