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'ISS Ambassador' Employee Training Program Emphasizes Station Benefits
Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank, left, performs an intraocular pressure test on Flight Engineer Don Pettit

Image above: Expedition 30 Commander Dan Burbank, left, uses the Health Maintenance Sys-tem Tonometry payload to perform an intraocular pressure test on Flight Engineer Don Pettit in the International Space Station's Destiny Laboratory. Image credit: NASA
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The International Space Station flies above the Aurora Australis

Image above: This picture, recorded by one of the Expedition 31 crew members aboard the International Space Station, features Aurora Australis with star streaks while the vehicle was over the South Pacific Ocean. Image credit: NASA
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Dr. Julie Robinson, ISS Program Scientist

Image above: Dr. Julie Robinson, International Space Station Program Scientist
Image credit: NASA
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Space enthusiasts and NASA employees are accustomed to hearing questions and concerns from people who are unfamiliar with the scientific and economic benefits of the International Space Station. Dr. Julie Robinson, ISS Program Scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, hears them, too. To better help agency employees spread the word about benefits already realized from the assembly of the International Space Station, Robinson developed the "ISS Ambassador" training program. On June 4 and 5, she shared her knowledge and enthusiasm with employees at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Often, in a social setting, I meet someone who knows I work for NASA, and they say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about NASA. What are you going to do now?'" Robinson said. When asked if anyone else in the room had had a similar experience, most of those seated in the auditorium raised their hands.

"That is an amazing opportunity," Robinson explained. "Because the next thing you can say is, 'I've got a lot to do, and it's really exciting, and here's why.' "

After a full decade of construction, the outpost was completed in 2011, kicking off the "utilization era" -- a period in which science and technology research have become the primary focus of station activities.

Flying more than 200 miles above Earth's surface, the 357-foot-long orbiting research facility is an engineering marvel, home to the only U.S. National Laboratory in a microgravity environment. With six resident crew members representing a variety of nations, ground teams around the globe stand ready to support station activities on a daily basis.

"The 24/7 ongoing human space operations are really the great engineering achievement of the last decade," Robinson said.

Until the development of the International Space Station, humans had never undertaken a project like it. The facility far surpasses previous space stations in both size and scope.

Never before had multiple nations collaborated so closely on such an effort, bridging language barriers and engineering cultures for a common goal. One by one, components built around the world were lofted into space and successfully added to the station, proving it was possible to coordinate such a massive, global engineering project without requiring hardware fit-checks on the ground.

The five official partner agencies involved in the ISS are the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), European Space Agency (ESA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

"The ISS partnership, by being international in scope, is the first time that, instead of a nation doing exploration all by itself for its own economic gain, humans have banded together to do something even bigger that no one nation could do alone," Robinson said.

"And that's exciting because the endeavor is committed to the advancement of all humankind, not just a single nation."

These achievements serve as a model for future cooperation in the development of exploration missions, and the utilization era that's just beginning holds the promise of scientific discovery and economic benefits for the entire world.

Trying to carry out research during the station's construction phase was not easy -- "We were basically trying to do surgery while someone was building the operating room," Robinson recalled -- but the station teams rose to the challenge. By fall 2011, the orbiting laboratory already had served approximately 1,300 scientists by hosting more than 1,200 experiments conducted by researchers in more than 60 countries.

Scientific and technological advancements discovered or developed aboard the space station serve as an economic engine. Robinson pointed out that science doesn't work at the same pace as engineering: It takes two to five years for new findings to be peer-reviewed and ready for publication.

"Usually, with a discovery, you don't know what economic benefit that's going to generate right away," Robinson said, adding that over time many discoveries lead to valuable new information, or products, services and other economic benefits right here on Earth.

Research results are findings that stem from specific studies in which scientists designed an investigation seeking specific knowledge. A spinoff, on the other hand, is a technology that starts out as a solution to a problem or need in space exploration, but is then adapted and applied for use on Earth.

Rather than competing for priority, research and exploration really are two sides of the same human advancement that drives our economy, Robinson said.

"Over the next decade, that's our goal: to get the most research, new knowledge, new applications for exploration, and new benefits back here on Earth, out of that laboratory."

For more information, visit:
› Space Station Research and Technology
› Blog: A Lab Aloft
› NASA Spinoff
Anna Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center