how much is a test-tube in space worth?: spacelab is about to take off again, but pure science is beginning to run into opposition from hard-nosed economics. peter bond reports
However, the scientific results of their mission may have a serious impact on future studies of weightlessness.
9 days in D-2 (Deutschland-2)mission -
10 years after the first space mission and the ninth manned flight of the space lab
When the crew works in a pressurized lab in the space shuttle cargo hold, their movie will be broadcast live.
Return on investment of $370
With the help of Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA)
Japan and France
German universities, research institutions and industry have been able to complete most of the 90 experiments they plan to do.
The diversity of their research proves a series of scientific disciplines eager to study the effects of weightlessness.
A German team is working on 200 tadpole and fry to try to prove that young animals need the effects of gravity in order to develop a sense of balance.
Another group will test a high
Precision robot arm equipped with laser ranging device, tactile sensor and stereo TV camera.
The robot will try to build a small cube tower and retrieve objects floating in a weightless environment, which will be operated by astronauts or ground scientists under remote control.
Researchers are also interested in using weightlessness to make improved alloys and crystal sense.
Small furnaces in the space lab will produce large, high
A high quality arsenic semiconductor that is important for the electronics industry. D-
2 An experiment called Anthrorack will also be conducted, the state-of-the-art medical research facility ever flown in space.
The effects of weightlessness on human organs will be investigated, including muscle degeneration and bone calcium loss. During the D-
In a mission in 1985, the results showed a 90 reduction in cell reproduction in space.
This shows the disease.
The human immune system is almost closed in orbit;
This will have a serious impact on long-distance flights in space.
Scientists on the ground will be able to intervene in the experiment;
For example, the heat transfer and cooling process in a transparent fluid will be monitored through holographic technology, which is used to produce three-
Size image on credit card.
Researchers at the Oberpfaffenhofen control center near Munich will be able to send new orders on their own or ask the crew to take various actions.
Such a huge investment and a clear enthusiasm for weightlessness research have overshadowed the debate about the economic and scientific value of such experiments.
Even in Germany, government officials expressed disappointment at the election results.
This view is supported by the fraunhove Institute, which believes that the development of spin-
Taking off from space research does not justify the high cost of flying.
At the same time, due to budget constraints, 1 out of 3 of the German-sponsored Space Laboratory missions was made available to ESA and the international community.
As one of the main members of ESA, the UK contributed only 1% per cent to the weightless budget.
Heinz Wolf, director of the Institute of Bioengineering at Brunel University and an enthusiastic supporter of weightlessness research, said one reason for the apparent lack of interest is that the scientific community is dominated by \"big science\" experts.
He admits that high expectations in his early 80 s have not yet been met, but believes that it is unrealistic to expect major breakthroughs only after running on track for hundreds of hours.
It\'s like an Amazon adventure, he says: one and the only chance to explore.
His view was supported by Joel Carnes, project manager, Nasa\'s weightless science and applications department.
\"The space lab is ready to become more productive in 1985, followed by the Challenger disaster.
He pointed out that the space shuttle carried out three space missions last year and planned a space life science flight later this year.
We are still at this stage of exploration and development.
Professor Wolfe believes that,
The results of biological and material science may include the treatment of osteoporosis.
A key question is how to measure value for money (
About weightless in Nasa\'s budget).
John Pike, director of space policy at the American Federation of Scientists, said that over the past 10 years, because experiments tend to focus on pure science, potential commercial applications for weightlessness research have decreased.
What is the cost of the space lab?
In Mr Pike\'s view, given the possible breakthroughs in pure science and the external opportunities for commercial profits, the average expenditure of $100 for a task is acceptable.
One of the main problems is the short flight time.
Many scientists and industrialists are trying to find a cheaper alternative that can produce four-
A week flight that does not require manual monitoring.
ESA has developed the Eureca platform launched from the space shuttle; Russia\'s low-
Cost-photon satellites are becoming more and more popular;
A new generation of recyclable capsules is being developed in Europe, Japan and the United States.
However, not all studies are suitable for automatic monitoring, and Mr. Carnes stressed that the space lab is the only way to conduct interactive experiments between the Earth and space.
In the short term, the space lab seems to be safe.
Two or three flights a year.
But if the $30 bn International Space Station, which runs on orbit by 2000, does not have a plan to achieve freedom, the future of the space lab will become even more bleak.
Mr. Pike said, \"in the next few years, Nasa will only find free use by flying some space lab missions.
However, as the United States Congress cuts and redesigns freedom, the links between these programs appear to be increasingly fragile.
Parker said it is entirely possible to cancel freedom this year.
But what about Nasa\'s international partners?
That\'s too bad, he said.
They will overcome it in a few centuries. \'(