The project has been controversial among scientists. Critics have pointed to the cost and observed that robots could grow crystals and make vaccines in microgravity much cheaper than astronauts.
But NASA, the station's landlord, sees the first cosmic condominium as the ideal locale for doing something robots can't -- documenting the long-term effects of space travel on human beings.
Everybody agrees that before we roll the dice and blast off for a moon colony or to Mars, we need some answers: What are the odds that people will get sick from intense radiation? Can NASA find an ace in the hole to prevent the bone destruction called osteoporosis?
And even though the first astronauts were test pilots oozing can-do machismo, people are not robots -- we have psychological and social needs. Could boredom -- or being cooped up with the same crew for months or years on end -- cause disease or disaster?
The space station is a room with the ultimate view. But space is a hostile neighborhood, and its tenants might end up feeling trapped in a one-bedroom apartment with too many roommates -- and too few doors.
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5 pages in this feature.
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