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Space Stations

In the final keynote of the morning, NASA’s Jack Bacon gave the audience a whirlwind overview of the most complicated technical project in history: the International Space Station.

Weighing some 400 tons, and of a size that wouldn’t fit in the conference ballroom in which some 2,500 attendees were hearing the presentation, the Space Station uses movable solar arrays the size of football end zones, Bacon pointed out.

Humans of many nationalities have now been living in space continuously for eight years, Bacon said. During that time, the Space Station project has produced numerous benefits, he noted. For example, challenges faced by the international team in dealing with water in space have led to technology that applies directly to problems of water purification in third-world countries such as Rwanda. Innumerable possibilities exist going forward; researchers believe that the weightlessness of space will one day yield the ability to make “foamed” steel, for example, which “will be stronger than any steel we can make on the ground,” Bacon said.

Bacon began his presentation by showing an image of Stonehenge, noting that humankind has been looking toward the stars for centuries to gain a better understanding of itself and its place in the universe. The same is true today, he said, as he concluded his remarks. “We’re making enormous progress now,” Bacon said. “We keep looking for answers out there. It’s nothing different than we have done for 5,000 years.”
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