Benefits of Microgravity
The opportunities provided by the ISS National Lab benefit a variety of sectors, as this environment allows the long-term study of phenomena whose effects are either influenced by gravity or masked by more dominant, gravity-dependent forces. Whether your field of study is in the physical or life sciences, or in basic or applied research, gravity influences the systems you study.
Click below to browse the ISS National Lab research portfolio (recent, current, and upcoming projects).
Read on for an overview of what makes the ISS National Lab a specialized platform for unparalleled innovation and discovery. In addition, click here for subject-specific fact sheets and NASA Researcher Guides that provide a comprehensive look at how the space environment enables groundbreaking research capabilities in specific scientific disciplines.
Gravity as a scientific variable
Space exploration missions quickly revealed that microgravity, or weightlessness, had profound and unique effects on physical and biological phenomena. These effects can inform exploration-related research questions and advance our knowledge of Earth-based processes, including insights into fundamental scientific investigations and research areas that enable commercial applications. The ISS affords a new, stable, and long-term platform for such studies.
In addition to helping researchers yield previously and often otherwise unattainable results, examples of the invaluable and unprecedented capabilities enabled by the exploitation of gravity as a scientific variable include:
- The unique ability to observe and measure the long-term effects of microgravity on natural phenomena and investigate less-studied forces typically inaccessible to ground studies
- Greater sensitivity in measurements of phenomena and characteristics than ground-based experiments in many fields
- The study of a vast array of changes in organisms, ranging from bacteria to humans, induced by the space environment, including global alterations in gene expression and three-dimensional aggregation of cells into tissue-like architecture
Exposure to the extreme space environment
Another benefit of the ISS research platform includes exposure to the extreme conditions of space, particularly the thermosphere and radiation environments. These extreme conditions include exposure to ultra-vacuum, atomic oxygen, high-energy radiation, and extreme heat and cold cycling (external ISS temperatures range from -200°C to 200°C [-328°F to 392°F]). Testing and qualification of materials exposed simultaneously to these extreme conditions have provided data to enable the manufacturing of long-life reliable components used on Earth.
Observation of Earth from a specialized vantage point
With an altitude of approximately 240 mi (386 km) and an orbital path that covers more than 90% of Earth’s population, the ISS has a unique vantage point that enables observations at high altitude and velocity. This can provide improved spatial resolution and variable lighting conditions compared with the sun-synchronous orbits of typical Earth-observing satellites, which pass over the same area at approximately the same time each day. Ultimately, this allows key insight into aspects of diverse fields, from atmospheric modeling to agriculture, through remote viewing of Earth and space.
If you’re interested in Earth observation, read more about the CASIS Good Earth Campaign on our Research Opportunities page.
The ISS enables observations at high altitude and velocity. Its location in low Earth orbit affords the ISS a unique vantage point, with an altitude of approximately 240 mi (400 km) and an orbital path over 90% of Earth’s population. This can provide improved spatial resolution and variable lighting conditions compared to the sun-synchronous orbits of typical satellites used for Earth observation, which pass over the same area at approximately the same time every day. Ultimately, this allows key insight into aspects of diverse fields, from atmospheric modeling to agriculture, through remote viewing of Earth (and space, for other applications!).