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The International Space Station: Is It Worth the Cost?

By KRISTEN STERNBERG | NIE Educational Consultant

If all goes as planned, the International Space Station will be completed in the year 2006. Recently, astronaut/scientists aboard the Spaceship Endeavour installed a pair of solar wings onto the space station. These wings are designed to provide additional electrical power to the space station. A recent article in The News-Journal explains the difficult process of installing the solar wings, and adds that this pair of wings cost $600 million-and there are three more pairs still to be attached.

Ready, set...
The space shuttle, ready for launch. (Photo: N-J/Gregg Pachkowski)

Add to that figure the years of preparation and training and the costs associated with launching the shuttle Endeavour. Is having the International Space Station worth the billions of dollars required to build, equip and maintain it? Some feel that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. After all, it may lead to breakthroughs in technology, engineering and medical research. It may also have the potential to help us discover resources that are rapidly being depleted on Earth, such as minerals and fuel.

Those not in favor of the International Space Station hold that building and maintaining the space station is causing even more rapid depletion of the very resources that Earth's people should be conserving. They feel that the money spent on the Space Station would be better spent on discovering and developing alternate resources right here on Earth, or on solving some of the major problems on this planet, such as world hunger, disease and poverty. What do YOU think?

Try these fun activities using The News-Journal!

1. Scientists aboard the International Space Station have to be real team players, working together to conduct research and make discoveries that can potentially benefit all people. In your classroom or at home, look through the newspaper for articles about other situations that require people to work together as a team. Make a list of what you have found. Then, for each situation, write down how each person involved is contributing toward a solution of the problem or situation described. With friends, family or classmates, identify a problem in your home, school or community and work together to solve it. (Sunshine State Standards: SS.A.1.2.1)

2. The solar wings installed on the International Space Station cost $600 million. Scan the newspaper for other numbers that describe how much something costs. Put the numbers in order, from smallest to largest. Then make a chart of your findings. How many of the numbers you found are less than the cost of a pair of solar wings? How many are greater? What does this suggest about the cost of the solar panels compared to the cost of other items? (Sunshine State Standards: MA.A.1.2.2, MA.2.2.1, MA.E.1.2.1., MA.E.1.2.3, MA.E.3.1.1)

3. Read The News-Journal story about the installing the solar wings at the International Space Station. Imagine you are a news anchorperson, and that you are given one minute to devote to that story on the TV news. Prepare your newscast by pulling out the most important points of the story to report on. Remember that questions reporters should answer in their stories are Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why? and How?. Share your newscast with friends, family or classmates. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.C.3.2.3, LA.C.3.2.5; LA.D.2.2.3., LA.D.2.2.5)

4. Read an article from The News-Journal describing life aboard the International Space Station. Think about what it would be like to live there for several months. Draw pictures of what you might see as you orbit the Earth, or what you might miss the most while you were away from Earth. Be sure to display your drawings at home or at school. (Sunshine State Standards: VA.A.1.2.1, VA.B.1.2.1)

5. Pretend you are one of the astronaut/scientists who has space walked outside the International Space Station to attach the solar wings. Write a poem about what you felt during that important mission. Share our poem with a friend, family member, classmate or teacher. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.B.2.2.3, LA.B.2.2.6)

A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at

Check out these links to learn more:

The Discovery Online web site offers a virtual tour of the International Space Station. While you're there, check out some of the other pages the Discovery site has to offer, including a taste of what life is like inside a Russian space camp, and discoveries made through the Hubble telescope.

Look at images of the Earth, and hear sounds from outer space, at EarthStation1.

The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper's web site has an interesting story about astronaut John Glenn and his role in space exploration. You can also look at important milestones of the space program by clicking on the timeline of events link.

Sending explorers into outer space has resulted in many advances in science and technology. Look at the following links to find some benefits that came from explorations in space, that you may not be aware of: Ski boots and solutions to overpopulation, heart pumps and Aero Nerf Gliders, blood pressure machines and braces for your teeth.

The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many of our nation's and world's newspapers. Visit the site and check out some other newspapers to see if they have articles about space exploration. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state. Click on the "Internationals" button to view choices from other countries.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal NIE Program, published January 15, 2001