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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 13:36 GMT

High-tech research laboratory

The International Space Agency: a permamanent research laboratory in space

Scientific and technological research is to be one of the main goals of the International Space Station.

Some scientists say the ISS has the potential to revolutionise many areas of science. Others say it will produce reasonable science but that overall it is not worth the money.

Medical research

The ISS labs will provide a unique environment for many aspects of medical research.

The growth of protein crystals, which help to determine the structure and function of proteins, will be a primary area of research.

[ image: Node-1 houses the main US lab]
Node-1 houses the main US lab
The information gathered could enhance drug design and help in the treatment of diseases.

Crystals grown on the US Space Shuttle have already been used for research into cancer, diabetes, emphysema and immune system disorders.

The crystal research on the space shuttle is controversial. A recent report recommended that it be curtailed due to poor scientific results.

The almost complete absence of gravity on the ISS will also help research into other aspects of human health including hormonal disorders and heart, lung and kidney functions.

High-performance materials

The ISS is expected to be a testbed for new technologies and could aid in the development of high-performance industrial materials.

The near lack of gravity will enable research into combustion and fluid physics, which is not possible on earth. A better understanding of combustion could lead to more energy conservation on earth.

Resource management

Research and development of lower cost heating and cooling systems will also feature prominently, as will the building of new water purification, water management and recycling systems.


Advances are expected to be made in communications, especially in the development of high-speed computers. The almost zero-gravity conditions will enable the development of polymers for computer semi-conductors.

Space research

[ image: A US astronaut undergoes underwater space walking training]
A US astronaut undergoes underwater space walking training
Telerobotic and robotic systems developed in ISS labs should increase human efficiency in space and could lead to the development of low-maintenance robots for industry and commercial purposes on earth.

Research on large-scale space vehicles will lead to improved lightweight structures, such as antennae and solar panels.

The ISS will also provide valuable practical experience for astronauts living and working in space. The designers of the ISS have been able to build on the lessons learned on the Russian space station Mir.

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