Status Report

Letter from Nobel Laureate Samuel O.C. Ting, Roald Sagdeev, and Jack Sandweiss to President Bush Regarding the International Space Station

By SpaceRef Editor
October 29, 2003
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Yale University

June 1, 2003

President of the United States

Mr. George Bush

The White House

Washington DC

Dear Mr. President

As active scientists we recognize and appreciate your support for the International Space Station (ISS) and we write now to express our strong support for the scientific importance of the International Space Station.

The value and interest of the human exploration of space, for which the space station is essential, has been put forth with considerable clarity and power in the debates taking place since the Columbia disaster, however, we believe that a narrow view has dominated the debates about the scientific importance of ISS. The debate has focused on the earliest work without properly considering the great potential and crucial importance of the Space Station for future science.

Nearly all of the experiments done so far by humans in space have been, necessarily, small in scale. However, the true potential for science in space can only be realized when larger, more complex experimental arrays are also utilized. The experiment which we are planning to mount on the ISS, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), is an example of such an experiment. AMS is an international collaboration of about 300 physicists from 16 countries. It is supported by NASA and DOE in the United States and by various scientific agencies in the countries of the collaborating institutions. We do not doubt that there will be other equally complex and powerful experiments mounted on the ISS as it matures in its scientific role.

Such experiments benefit in many important essential ways from being resident on the ISS. For example, the space station provides electrical power, spatial orientation, and telemetry to the experiments. These could be provided separately for reach experiment but only at considerable cost and duplication. For major experiments, location on the station offers substantial economy of scale, both in cost and in design and construction time.

The ISS allows experimenters to focus on the scientific design and construction of complex experiments to achieve uncompromised results without the added cost and distraction of also building an independent spacecraft.

Perhaps even more importantly, astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS provide the possibility for human intervention to repair, modify or respond to unexpected developments. One need only think of the recent experience with the Hubble Space Telescope to appreciate the value of such human intervention. A major experiment involves not only capital costs in the range of billions of dollars, but also many years of development and hundreds, often thousands, of scientific man years. To launch such experiments without the possibility of repair and refurbishment is to accept a level of risk which would seriously impede the research in space, and which is likely to discourage scientists from inventing and working on some of the most important and exciting directions of space science.

In conclusion, we reiterate our strong support for the continued and full development of the ISS.


Jack Sandweiss

Donner Professor of Physics

Yale University

Roald Sagdeev

Distinguished Professor of Physics

University of Maryland

Samuel O.C. Ting

Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Physics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Nobel Prize 1976

SpaceRef staff editor.