The International Space Station’s Past, Present, and Future Impact

Boeing’s Dr. Michelle Parker talks about the present contributions of the International Space Station and what’s in store for 2022 and beyond.


Air Date: December 16, 2021

Featured Guests: Dr. Michelle Parker, Vice President and Deputy General Manager, Boeing Space and Launch

For the last two decades, much of the world’s space exploration has originated from the International Space Station. For 23 years, NASA and its four international partners have worked with Boeing to develop, deliver, and operate the largest orbital laboratory in existence, with an international crew that has conducted research, performed experiments, and discovered new innovations to advance our understanding of space.

During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual Space Summit, Dr. Michelle Parker, vice president and deputy general manager of Boeing Space and Launch spoke about the ISS’s impact and what its future looks like. Here are three takeaways from that keynote.

Studying in Microgravity on the ISS Has Led to New Discoveries

One of the greatest impacts of the ISS is the ability of scientists to conduct studies in microgravity. Studying in space allows researchers to see how the subject they're studying reacts differently.

“We see every day on the ISS disease can be studied more effectively, and microgravity and treatments can work through testing cycles faster because cells and the DNA and our genes behave differently in microgravity than they do on earth,” said Dr. Parker. “From bacterial cell growth to the human immune system, everything works a little differently in space.”

For example, studying Alzheimer's disease in space offers more benefits, as the plaque grows quicker. Researchers can see the evolution of this plaque and test out techniques to stop the disease from growing.

Boeing Is Working on a New Commercial Space Station

In addition to consistent improvements for the ISS, Boeing is also working on a new commercial space station called Orbital Reef. The company is working in partnership with Blue Origin and Sierra Space to continue the legacy set by the ISS.

“The reef will be 90% of the size of the ISS at the completion of its baseline configuration, but it is designed to expand beyond that as markets develop and as customers need additional areas,” said Dr. Parker. “In fact, Boeing will provide the research module to the Orbital Reef, in addition to engineering guidance, sustaining engineering, and our Starliner spacecraft for crew and cargo transportation. For Boeing, this will be our second full-size station [that we will] help design, assemble, and operate. The Orbital Reef will benefit from all that we have learned in our work with the ISS.”

NASA Needs to Have a New System in Place Before Retiring the ISS

Despite the positive impact of the ISS, there will come a time for something new. Dr. Parker stressed that before we start considering the retirement of the ISS, NASA and its partners should have a new orbital platform fully operational.

“I believe we can have an overlap of perhaps several years while the new platform takes shape above us and works towards certification and steady-state operations,” said Dr. Parker. [This will preserve] critical research opportunities in space and critical workforce skills on earth and continuing our 21-year record of humans living and working in space.”

“We should strive to avoid a capability gap in low earth orbit and maintain a destination and work platform that empowers consistent research and space skills development,” she added. “We learned the hard way with the space shuttle that it is much easier to give away a capability too soon than to develop a new one.”