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Make space great again: Why the International Space Station still matters
As one of the biggest manmade structures in the sky and at a cost of over $100b, it's the place where the space age dream is still alive.
Soaring through the deep sky, a marvel of human engineering orbits around the planet 16 times a day. For the last two decades, the International Space Station (ISS) has housed hundreds of astronauts some 250 miles high. This multinational construction project has given us a permanent presence in space. It has been continuously occupied since November 2nd, 2000. The main modules of construction were completed between 1998 and 2011. The station has since evolved as a roving temporary home for nomadic astronauts experimenting and living in zero gravity.
As of January 2018, 230 astronauts have visited the International Space Station. The ISS has a heavy American and Russian presence. Over 15 nations have contributed to funding throughout the years. Alongside NASA, Roscosmos from Russia and the European Space Agency (ESA) are also major partners funding most of the space station.
With current plans in place, it’s expected that the space station will remain in operation until 2024 with a possible extension to 2028. There have also been a few calls for the station to be privatized as well. Time will tell what becomes of the space station. ISS stands at the forefront of what’s possible on the periphery of space.
Largest manmade structure to grace the skies
Spanning the area the size of a football field, the space station weighs 391,000 kilograms – not including visiting space shuttles. The entire complex has more living space than a suburban five bedroom home. It has two bathrooms, workout facilities and a circular bay window for stunning views of the earth. Many astronauts have compared the living conditions to the inside of a Boeing jumbo jet.
The ISS can be seen with the naked eye as it zooms around the world at 17,500 miles per hour. It looks like an unblinking white light, but with a good telescope, you can see it in greater detail. Its flight path is available online, so you can track it to see when it makes a trek above your backyard.
The International Space Station is an orbiting powerhouse of scientific experimentation with over $100 billion worth of pressurized modules, solar arrays, and cutting-edge tools housed in the structure. It was built piece-by-piece as different segments were put into orbit and then assembled carefully by spacewalking astronauts and controlled robotics. Most of the heavier pieces were brought up during the time of the United States’ space shuttle program. Other individual modules were launched using single-use rockets. The many different modules that make up the ISS include: living quarters, laboratories, structural trusses & solar panels for power.
The first two modules launched was the Russian Zarya and the NASA Unity/Node 1 modules. Spacewalking astronauts helped connect these two stations together. Throughout the years the following modules were added to create the superstructure that orbits the Earth today.
Truss, airlocks and solar panels. Launched in stages throughout ISS lifetime.
Zvezda (Russia; launched in 2000)
Destiny Laboratory Module (NASA; launched 2001)
Canadarm2 robotic arm (CSA; launched 2001).
Harmony/Node 2 (NASA; launched 2007)
Columbus orbital facility (ESA; launched 2008)
Dextre robotic hand (CSA; launched 2008)
Japanese Experiment Module or Kibo (launched between 2008-09)
Cupola window and Tranquility/Node 3 (launched 2010)
Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (ESA launched permanently in 2011)
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (private module launched in 2016)
The place where the space age dream is still alive
Shuttling astronauts to and fro, hasn’t garnered much fanfare from the populace. Aside from a few novel experiments like Scott Kelly’s recent year-long session in space, ISS expeditions have gotten minimal coverage. The ISS has produced an incredible amount of scientific output and many discoveries that will pave the way for the future of space exploration and human colonization.
NASA’s research page lists thousands of different experiments conducted over the past twenty years. Big Think in a conversation with biochemist and astronaut, Peggy Whitson, whose visited and stayed at the ISS three times had the following to say about some of her experiments in orbit.
“Everything, from super-conductor crystals, I grew soybeans, did colloidal suspension of iron, different kinds of gas/liquid flow through columns, combustion experiments. So, all kinds of things.”
All of these experiments were distinguished by the fact that they lacked Earth’s gravity, which is a huge variable to get rid of. As we have dreams of expanding and living in space, knowing the effects or lack thereof of gravity is going to be one of the defining aspects of our space future. Some of Whitson’s work in space has led her to help develop a drug that fights cancer cells, by studying them in zero gravity.
Other upcoming experiments like bringing the Cold Atom Lab designed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), are going to help us ask questions about the strange physics of absolute zero.
By the time ISS makes its return back to earth in the late 2020s or is repurposed, it will have set the foundation for the future of space stations and other space-faring adventures.
A stepping stone to the greater cosmic neighborhood
Space is unbelievingly big and filled with strange phenomena. That being said, there’s a lot of places closer to home we can start to inhabit and expand into. There are a lot of ideas being thrown around about what’s next after the ISS. For example, the Russian space agency has plans to add a five-star luxury suite to the ISS in an early bid to start up some space commercialization. The module is planned to launch in 2021.
The Deep Space Gateway is the next step for NASA and the international space community as they come up with a full-fledged replacement for the ISS. It will be much smaller but may be heading out further than even the Apollo missions as it orbits around the moon. The hope is that it will serve as a central hub for future Mars missions.
The International Space Station is a testament to the globalized world’s ability to cooperate and connect in the future of space. This amazing structure is just the beginning of a possible new golden age of space.
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
Want to Retain American Jobs? Stop Blaming Globalization<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="oxK8j1xN" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="2cf425d7b91ed2a6fc4fe19d065f3408"> <div id="botr_oxK8j1xN_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/oxK8j1xN-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/oxK8j1xN-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/oxK8j1xN-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."