The Ultimate Collaboratory:
The International Space Station
What is a “collaboratory”? As defined by computer scientist William Wulf in 1989, it is a “center without walls, in which researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location.”
The International Space Station (ISS) is a great example of a collaboratory. It does have walls, protected by Kevlar® fiber (developed by DuPont), but it has no borders. It is a joint enterprise of some 15 nations in which the leading scientists come together—sometimes physically at the station 200 miles above our planet, sometimes virtually through communications with laboratories on Earth—to do essential research that will benefit humanity over both the short and long term. Many nations that don't always see eye-to-eye in terms of politics or economics come together in the realm of science, joining forces to do groundbreaking research. They are a kind of international Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) all-star team, exploring the outer edges of science in search of solutions to the challenges we all face.
In-orbit construction of the Space Station began in 1998, and the first astronauts came aboard in 2000. The ISS program was coordinated with the recently completed Space Shuttle program, as a series of shuttle flights brought the materials to the ISS to gradually build it to completion. Research has been ongoing throughout the period of construction, but NASA and ISS administrators are confident that, now that the Station is finished, the pace of research can increase.
Already, however, the research accomplishments of the ISS add up to an impressive list. Crew members have taken advantage of working in low Earth orbit and in a laboratory with zero gravity.
“Space Station is the culminating engineering effort of 15 countries. Children should be able to look up and in simple awe and wonder that we have accomplished this engineering feat; that folks can float and do wonderful science and learn more about what we're doing on Earth as well as going farther. It provides a goal—maybe an inspiration—for the children to be able to want to contribute to our future. Together, we are building the future”