According to an article in space.com – the self-proclaimed “world’s No. 1 source for news of astronomy, skywatching, space exploration, commercial spaceflight and related technologies,” the International Space Station has
been a big freaking waste/ colossal money pit yielded little return on the U.S. government’s investment. The cost? According to this article (from late 2010): “NASA estimates the station has cost U.S. taxpayers $50 billion since 1994 — and overall, its price tag has been pegged at $100 billion by all member nations.” I’ve also seen higher estimates. The benefits? Few – and with high opportunity cost:
Gregory Petsko, a biochemist at Brandeis University, said the only basic science justification he has ever heard for the station is that protein molecules form superior crystals in the microgravity of space than they do on Earth. Researchers crystallize proteins in order to determine their precise three-dimensional structures, which help biologists understand the functions of those proteins.
The best-case scenario, in terms of return on investment, would be if a space-grown crystal were used to design a blockbuster pharmaceutical drug that worked by precisely targeting one of those proteins, he said.
“I haven’t seen any really important structures yet that absolutely required the space station for crystal growth, and there are a heck of a lot of structures out there,” Petsko told SPACE.com.
Even if the station did lead to important new crystal structures, the cost per structure would be astronomical, Petkso said. “If we assume that two percent of the cost of the space station has gone into this kind of science, that’s a billion dollars with little or nothing to show for it so far.”
For that amount of money, he said, NASA could have funded the work of 1,000 scientists on Earth for five years.
“Do you honestly think that this would have produced fewer important scientific findings than have come out of the space station?” Petsko said.
Not news to those of us highly skeptical of the value of NASA and, particularly, of NASA’s manned space efforts. But here is NASA’s defense of the benefits of the ISS if you want to see what it is doing from another perspective (underwhelming for the price if you ask me).
If you’d like to literally see your tax dollars at work with your naked eye, sign up for NASA’s “spot the station” service here. And at least we get beautiful pictures like this one – just at a really high cost!: