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What space teaches us about Earth

Experiments like the ones we conducted in the International Space Station's weightless environment can help solve myriad problems plaguing our planet
The ISS (International Space Station)
The ISS (International Space Station)

In April this year, I joined the list of 241 people who have spent time on the International Space Station (ISS) and became the second Israeli astronaut to go into space. During a total of 17 days in space, the Rakia mission utilized the giant orbiting laboratory and I conducted 34 experiments covering medicine, agriculture, material sciences, atmospheric studies and more, all under a unique set of conditions that are otherwise unavailable on our home planet.

Microgravity on the ISS

Here on Earth, we are subject to gravity; it affects everything around us, our environment, and the scientific experiments we perform. If we remove gravity, we can view systems in a whole new way. The ISS orbits more than 250 miles above Earth at a speed of over 17,000 miles per hour, creating a unique microgravity environment. This opens the door for a flood of opportunities to study gravity itself and the impact of microgravity on the human body, cells, liquids and much more.

The pull of gravity affects our entire body, from the way our heart pumps to the density of our bones. It essentially governs all life on Earth. The microgravity environment on the ISS provides scientists with an exclusive vantage point that is rarely explored. The lack of gravity and changes in atmospheric conditions completely alter science as we know it and performing space experiments allows researchers to tap into new territories.

The Impact of Space Experiments

The lab on the ISS is not just preparing us for future space exploration, it’s also a golden resource for developing medical, technological, economic, and social benefits back on Earth. Space developments have already been shown to be effective in protecting our planet and the environment, healthcare improvements, enhancing safety on Earth, and creating new technologies for everyday life.

Experimental studies performed on astronauts in space majorly contribute to our understanding of medical conditions here on Earth. Over time, we have been able to deepen our knowledge on bone and muscle loss, and scientists have been able to develop exercise routines and diet regimens to significantly reduce the damage that astronauts experience during their travels in space. This knowledge directly translates into research focusing on osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, and nutrition, thereby increasing our possibilities to study health problems related to diseases, aging and immobility.

We can study how different biological functions, such as vision, change in the absence of gravity and gather data to increase our understanding of different organisms as a whole. Astronauts on the ISS act as human subjects contributing to our understanding of how microgravity affects human health and wellbeing, teaching us new ways to counteract unwanted changes in the human body.

Eytan Stibbe conducts a brain experiment in space (Image-Rakia)

Improving Life on Earth

The very absence of gravity alters basic scientific processes like the separation between liquids and gases, fluids mixing and heat transfer. It affects things like crystal growth and solidification, all of which contribute to advanced materials science research. It also acts as a driving force behind developing advanced medical instruments for monitoring and diagnostics.

Space research has increased our knowledge on combustion, liquids in porous substances, and how dust particles behave. With this, we can work on low pollution, high-efficiency combustion power plants, aircrafts and cars, as well as improve crude oil recovery and create innovative air and water purification techniques, helping us protect our planet.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

From a physics standpoint, the ISS acts as a platform with access to the vacuum conditions of space, extreme heat and cold, large distances and high velocity. This gives scientists the opportunity to explore experiments that are otherwise impossible on Earth.

In addition, the positioning of the ISS allows unique capabilities such as observing 85% of Earth’s surface. This means we can take photos at a spatial resolution of single meters, allowing us to track urban growth, monitor volcanos and hurricanes, document melting glaciers and deforestation, and measure CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Building Hope for the Future

Space exploration creates new opportunities for addressing global challenges as well as producing innovations for use on Earth (which in turn creates an increase in economic growth). The past 60 years of space exploration have greatly impacted the progression of medicine and scientists have been able to improve life on Earth for future generations.

Even though gravity affects everything we do on Earth, until recently we had no way of experimenting without it. The abundance of opportunities provided to us by the space experiments excited both me – as someone who is passionate about the importance of education, technology science and art – and the whole team at Rakia. We are committed to continuing in the promotion of additional participation in space exploration.

About the Author
Impact investor, philanthropist and pilot, Eytan Stibbe was the second Israeli astronaut to ever go to space. As a crew member of the Ax-1 mission, in April 2022, Eytan spent 17 days on the International Space Station. Together with the Ramon foundation and the Israeli Space Agency, a work plan was assembled and called the RAKIA mission. It included experiments in medicine, earth observation, production in space as well as educational programs and art, all under the banner “There is no dream beyond reach”.
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