High Living
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Healthy housing?
POSTED 26 DEC 2000 The International Space Station -- cynics think of the $60 billion project as a high-flying hotel with a Las-Vegas-style price tag -- is gearing up for years of occupation and research.

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.

The space station flies over Earth, with modules, solar panels looking like a Lego project run amok.
Home away from home. The International Space Station offers long-term leases to a few good space travelers.
Courtesy: NASA
With the "Destiny" laboratory (Who NAMES these things, anyway?), destined for launch in January, 2001, the medical and psychological aspects of space travel are much on our minds.

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?

People aren't robots. Is an isolated, confined environment healthy?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.

Strap on your anti-gravity suit and holster your Captain Marvel ray gun. Let's blast off for a Why Files expedition into the medicine and psychology of long-term space travel.

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