Artist's concept of the interior of a space station colony

Image courtesy of NASA

The Future of Space Stations

We are just beginning the development of space stations. The ISS will be a vast improvement over Salyut, Skylab and Mir; but we are still a long way from the realization of large space stations or colonies as envisioned by science fiction writers. None of our space stations thus far have had any gravity. One reason for this is that we want a place without gravity so that we can study its effects. Another is that we lack the technology to practically rotate a large structure, like a space station, to produce artificial gravity. In the future, artificial gravity will be a requirement for space colonies with large populations.

Another popular idea deals with where a space station should be placed. The ISS will need periodic reboosting because of its position in low Earth orbit. However, there are two places between the Earth and moon called Lagrange Points L-4 and L-5. At these points, the Earth's gravity and the moon's gravity are counter-balanced so that an object placed there would not be pulled toward the Earth or moon. The orbit would be stable and require no boosting. A society called the L5 Society was formed more than 20 years ago to push the idea of placing space stations in orbit at these points. As we learn more from our experiences on the ISS, we may build larger and better space stations that would enable us to live and work in space, and the dreams of von Braun and the early space scientists may someday become reality.

For more on space stations and related topics, investigate the links on the following page.