Friday, 18 March 2011

International Space Station

Perhaps the most unique building mankind has built, I have always been interested in the International Space Station since I knew about its construction, until its recent 100% completion.

Constructed in tiny segments at a time, the space station's design had to be meticulously planned - its components were designed to fit inside rockets and be easily assembled together by the astronauts ~200 miles above the earth's surface.

The views from are extraordinary, surely more beautiful and diverse than from any other building. As NASA describes it:

"From fiery volcanoes spewing smoke and lava to icy lakes and glaciers in the coldest environments of our planet, crews have given humankind views of these natural phenomena from one of the most unusual perspectives available"

Rationing and recycling are essential parts of life on the station. For power, light from the sun is converted into electricity through the use of photovoltaic panels. Waste water is collected, processed and stored from the space shuttle’s fuel cells as well as from urine, oral hygiene and hand washing, and by condensing humidity from the air. Careful water recycling reduces the amount required from Earth to resupply the station by 60 percent. The environmental conditions on site are so important for the safety of the astronauts - the space station is perhaps the most site specific building in the world and the micro-climate reflects this.

This documentary was very informative, and gave an insight into the day in the life of one of the astronauts:

NASA really had to know their clients when they designed the ISS. The smallest detail such as a drop of water in the wrong place could have such devastating effects in the building. 

Toilets, beds etc had to be reinvented so they could function properly in a micro-gravity environment. The astronaut Piers Sellers describes the earth as looking extremely fragile from space. The earth's atmosphere, something we rely so much on, is seen as a thin blue band on the horizon. Smoke from power stations can clearly be seen rising up into this atmosphere and everything from hurricanes to volcanoes can be seen directly affecting the atmosphere. The observatory in the ISS is perhaps my favourite feature of the space station because of this unique perspective on the planet - photos from which have influenced so many scientific ideas, political and environmental decisions.