Archive for February, 2008

Who Said Recession?

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Focused on Wall Street

The media is creating a lot of confusion about the pressing economic situation. There is much talk, and hype, regarding whether or not we are in recession, mostly pointing to the realities of a recession that “may” already be underway. Scanning the mainstream media is an exercise in gloomy prognostications and flimsy evidence. Reading I came across the following excerpt of the 2008 Global Forecast by :

“After the ongoing two-quarter slowdown, we expect a U.S. rebound in the second quarter extending through the second half. The softness in foreign growth in recent months should pass as U.S. orders start flowing again and the impact of lower U.S. interest rates spreads globally. We think the wave of downgrades in other outlooks–the Fed’s on February 20, the IMF’s in January, the falling Blue Chip forecast–is a delayed reaction to the severity of the August financial market turbulence. We’re more focused on the forward-looking response to the Fed’s interest rate cuts (3% and likely to fall), which we view as a significant positive event in the growth outlook.”

I appreciate that Karlgaard goes out of his way to present alternative viewpoints to those that seem to make better headlines. Malpass, as Karlgaard points out, has a pretty stellar record and is credited by Karlgaard as being one of the most accurate economic and market forecasters to navigate the intensity of the last eight years. Malpass feeling bullish about the U.S. economy is a very, very good thing. We need more good things right now.

Capsule’s Design Matters // Logos

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Design Matters//Logos by Capsule

This book is not fetishistic, as many logo and identity books tend to be. Design Matters // Logos, by the team at , is an excellent and methodical review of the thinking, process and decision making behind a series of very successful identities created by a diverse group of designers (from to ). The subtitle “An Essential Primer For Today’s Competitive Market” gives this away. I appreciate and find it fascinating to see what designers and design teams worked through to get to the end result, to be privy to the strategy behind something as mistakenly subjective as a logo. Each identity reviewed is broken down into these sections:

  • Introduction – a brief overview of the situation and the objectives
  • Planning – the foundational work leading up to design
  • Creating – details related to the development of the identity
  • Implementing – how the identity was introduced and executed

It is an incredibly informative book, as well as being very well designed. Beautiful, really. The organization and information contained within lend themselves to repeat reading, and it is the kind of book that becomes a frequent resource for a review on identity strategy and inspiration. I found the extensive section on planning to be of particular value, given my penchant for strategy and well-developed rationale, and is something that any team setting out to create identity would benefit from reading… especially pages 36-37 which offers some great insights into navigating the complexities of the research process.

Full disclosure, I received this book from Rockport Publishers. I love free books, when they are good, and I recommend this one without hesitation and will be keeping it in my “active” stack of books. It rocks.

10 Design Thinking Principles For Strategic Business Innovation

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Design Thinking

That is the title of an excellent post I came across at . We have discussed design thinking, and its value to business, here before. This post by , succinctly breaks down the foundational principles of design thinking and how they might be appropriately applied. Idris Mootee is not only all over the concept of design thinking, he has built a successful consultancy around it. Perhaps the most important point made in the post is in the opening sentences. Typically, when “design thinking” comes up in a meeting or discussion of strategy it is relegated to something to do with aesthetics, and there is a disconnection with how design thinking might be relevant to strategy, which unfortunately still struggles to mean something beyond an analysis of spreadsheets and increasingly complex formulas. In reality:

“I explained to them that “design thinking” is crucial to any innovation effort if a company wants to break out of its current competitive structure.”

Idris Mootee

In many ways, business is still stuck in an approach to innovation and strategy that is based on optimization, which at a high level means maximizing inherent resources and market influence to create a competitive advantage. This can work, and historically has been a beneficial approach to a diversity of companies. The problem is that this approach does not scale and it is dominated by a cycle of business performance. You cannot optimize every quarter. Optimization follows a much longer cycle of action and response. Applying design thinking to the strategic breakdown of advantage in business brings an empathic approach to supporting innovation, and involves a more holistic analysis of business, one that asymetricaly surveys not only the competitive landscape, but has at its core a people centered approach to business. This involves needs assessment, strategic risk review, and the creative collaboration around how to take advantage of the results of these key assessments. Here is Mootee’s presentation of the 10 Design Thinking Principles for Strategic Business Innovation:

Human Level AI By 2029 – We Best Be Ready…

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

H.A.L. 9000

It would seem that reality does map nicely to the various themes of science fiction:

“I’ve made the case that we will have both the hardware and the software to achieve human level artificial intelligence with the broad suppleness of human intelligence including our emotional intelligence by 2029.”

via

That is both fascinating and definitely something to ponder. I had imagined it taking us longer to reach human level AI as 2029 is only just over twenty years away. In the article Kurzweil goes on to say that humans and machines will eventually merge and become indistinguishable from one another. He does not say whether or not this will be by choice.

The Demise of The Tastemaker, The Rise of The Collaborator

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Rugby Scrum

The perspective of this interesting article I found at is that design value is increasingly driven by very effective and highly collaborative teams. Behind this is the ever-increasing realization that design has the potential to transform and grow business in ways not previously considered. Business leaders are getting this, and as the value of effective design teams become more widely recognized and understood, they are paying more focused attention to how they might effectively support these teams in new and different ways. This is in part due to the complexity of the situations engaged by design teams, that they defy an object approach and rely intensely on an effective collaborative process to achieve the desired end. It is also partly due to changing expectations for the value of design, that it has definitively moved beyond the domain of creating beautiful things and resoundingly into the realm of creating beautiful things that work really well and provide an experience that exceeds audience expectations and solves important problems, while increasing shareholder value. A choice quote from the article:

“The tastemaker idea is out of date. Perhaps there’s a place for taste-making within the consumer market, but the approach is out of date when it comes to more complex stuff, where it’s not just about creating beautiful things…Take sustainability. You can’t have an iconic object approach to the problems of sustainability. It’s a systematic thing.”

– Director of Innovation, Royal College of Art

None of this is to say that process, which I have posted about before, should suddenly take precedence over individual inspiration. It is that the complexity of problems demands a more holistic approach to addressing potential solutions. This is about the power of an effective team, the power of successful facilitation, to take solutions far beyond what perhaps a lone genius may be able to provide. At the level of designing complex interactions and environments that must address a matrix of need, this is increasingly evident.

Jupiter: Images Defy Any Narrative

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Jupiter and moon IO as seen from New Horizons via Travis Rector

Jupiter - Surface motion animation

False color Jupiter image

Jupiter captured by Cassini

These images just blow me away.

Kenya Hara – Designing Design

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Kenya Hara

I have been reading a newish book from Japanese designer , which came to me as an incredibly thoughtful gift. , which is excellent, is not so much a portfolio or biography as much as a treatise on Hara’s philosophy of design, a philosophy that is both insightful and interesting, distinctive, and deeply immersive. His work is iconic in many ways, but not because of anything remotely approaching a signature flourish. He places significant focus on how all of our senses are affected by design, which encompasses everything from objects to environments.

Inside his book are beautiful images of his work, as well as that of others who have collaborated with him or contributed to projects he has curated. The images provide important references to his ideas and observations, and they are well integrated. The book functions almost as an illustrated guidebook to Hara’s design philosophy, visually representing the application of his thinking. Also, the design of this book is superbly elegant and engaging:

Designing Design by Kenya Hara

As a designer, Hara’s work reflects thought and consideration that seems contradictory in that it is both minimalist and comprehensive. It is evident that this is not a person who takes design lightly, and perhaps considers it more of an epistemological exercise:

“The human brain likes anything that entails a great deal of information.”

Kenya Hara

The book is divided into chapters that individually and collectively investigate:

  • - Re-Design – Daily Products of The 20th Century
  • - Haptic – Awakening the Senses
  • - Senseware – Medium That Intrigues Man
  • - White
  • - Muji – Nothing, Yet Everything
  • - Viewing The World From The Tip of Asia
  • - Exformation – A New Information Format
  • - What is Design?

Cosmic Scale

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

The universe is inconceivably vast and empty and we are incredibly isolated here on our little blue speck of dust. This cold, hard reality is an abstraction to most of us because as far as we’re concerned, we’ve got it pretty good. This video is along the lines of the one I posted earlier in the week that contrasts Earth against some impossibly large celestial bodies elsewhere in the universe. More fuel for universal irrelevancy.

Video found via , a smart and superbly generalist blog I recently discovered.

Telepresence And The Man/Machine Interface

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

I have posted about telepresence and the workplace a few times before, but this is a military application that is incredibly interesting. The interface between robots and operators has proved to be a bottleneck in effectiveness. This is partly because robotic technology has advanced at a rate faster then our interface and control technologies, and partly because the performance demands being put on robotics have scaled significantly in a very short period of time. This is beginning to change, and DARPA is again at the forefront of driving that change. The video above is of the telepresence “Head Aimed Remote Viewer” (), and it offers tremendous improvements in speed, navigation, and effectiveness. The Pentagon has very quickly become a driver of innovation in robotics.Story via

Rethinking Partnership + Architecture 2.0

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Rem Koolhaas by Tom Oldham

This post would be a continuation on my theme about thoughts on the future building culture, at least for my immediate team. You can read related posts here, though you have to scroll down for some of the more inflammatory ones. In any event, our team has been deep into investigations of business model and approach as it relates to the built environment, and one organization and one person continues to surface as a vanguard and a contrarian, and consistently at the heart of the examples we provide to each other. Pictured above is , the founder of . He has a well-known and well-developed record as an architect and designer, and has managed to be seemingly ubiquitous with active projects dotting the globe. OMA has been tireless in execution, and is providing solutions to the domain of exclusive and high profile clients. Pushing boundaries is hard, intense, and expensive work and it takes clients with the money and steely resolve to partner with the likes of Rem Koolhaas. In any event, the results seem to be beneficial for all involved.

Via I came across a conference held in Rotterdam last November with the overarching theme of how the future of architecture, “Architectuur 2.0″, is presently being shaped. All of the speakers (whose lectures can be viewed in the archives… in Dutch, I am still looking for full transcripts in English), collectively the group known as the , seemed excellent. But it was a couple of Rem’s comments that stuck with me. He talked about partnerships, and how they are incredibly underestimated, and went on to list a number of examples that, in his view, regardless of the result, helped him move the needle. As you survey the density, and audacity, of the work being done by OMA and AMO worldwide it is evident that none of this could happen, none of it would really even be possible, without that approach to the collective project team. How we partner, and how well we partner, is ultimately the determiner of project success. This obviously extends far beyond just the built environment, but if there was an industry that was plagued with the challenges of navigating partnerships successfully, I would have to say it is architecture and design. At least in the United States.

This is changing, though, and architects are beginning to reconnect with the making, and reconnect with clients. Or, perhaps, connect differently. Smart architecture teams are organizing around projects in new ways that are incorporating research and technology for a remix of the user experience. They are fast, nimble, innovative and not afraid of risk nor of liability. All of these are givens. They approach challenges holistically, with a design brief informed by smart, comprehensive research and well-reasoned conclusions. If it is your goal to create value, to do more than just meet minimal requirements, than this approach is a necessity. The alternative is to let the value of design be eroded, and ultimately distributed across an increasingly complex vendor environment. Not an option. But to prevent this, or to circumvent it entirely, goes right back to Rem’s comments regarding partnership, that “partnership is an underestimated theme.”

Space Elevator… “Crazy But Possible.”

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Space Elevator Rendering

One of the researchers investigating the possibilities of building a space elevator said that. It was an incredibly futuristic idea a decade ago. Not so much today. Getting to space with rockets is incredibly dangerous and increasingly expensive. Each Space Shuttle mission costs NASA (and by extension the American taxpayers) about $500 million, and in these constrained budgetary times that is verging on cost prohibitive. This lends credence to the space elevator concept, which is not by any means a new idea ( put forth the idea in his 1978 novel “The Fountains of Paradise” – though he was not the first). Developments in materials technologies, like carbon nanotubes, are giving the space elevator new momentum and urging NASA to perhaps consider it seriously as a future alternative to orbital access.

The concept is exceedingly simple:

  • - Send up a satellite that maintains a geosynchronous orbit
  • - Satellite deploys a ribbon or cable back to Earth
  • - Cable is attached to an offshore station
  • - Elevator rides the cable from the offshore station up to the orbiting satellite

The elevator could be powered by Earth based lasers or by powerful solar reflectors. Panels on the elevator would receive the light energy from the emitters on the ground and produce the electricity that would power the motors on the elevator. It’s sustainable.

Previously, we had been held back by the material realities of trying to build a several thousand mile (as long as 22,000 miles) elevator cable. The advent of carbon nanotube technology, still in its infancy, could be the lightweight but incredibly strong materials breakthrough that makes this possible. If completed, the space elevator would be the largest structure ever built.

More on space elevators in an excellent entry at , at , and a short video from PBS’s .

Interstellar Perspective

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Cosmological Perspective

Pretty incredible, really, just how seemingly microscopic not only our lovely planet, but our entire solar system is when contrasted against the largest known star in the universe, . This star is a hypergiant located about 5,000 light years from Earth. VY Canis Majoris is so enormous that a human walking on its surface at a normal pace of 3mph for 8 hours per day would take 650,000 years to circumnavigate. It would take 2 years 11 months to complete the same task here on Earth. The volume of VY Canis Majoris is nearly a billion times that of our own Sun.

Animation via via my lovely wife.

The Handicap of Expertise: Getting In Our Own Way

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

An innovation bottleneck…

The dreaded curse of knowledge, that as we become more expert in something we also begin to limit and eventually lose the ability to innovate. Is this possible?

Janet Rae-Dupree thinks so, and in an article in the New York Times titled , she looked at how innovation is actually better supported by toning down the level of expertise. The premise she explores is that once we become expert we lose the ability to think freely, and operate instead from the place of our expertise. She points out that as we become more knowledgeable and expert in our fields our language and thought patterns change to such a degree that outsiders and non-experts often will not understand. This knowledge/action patterning then begins to wear behavioral paths for us that inhibit our ability to operate without the support of what we know to be true, and instills avoidance tendencies for things that are outside of that expertise.

How do you avoid this tendency? Dupree points us to , who in her 2006 book, proposes bringing in from the outside to keep creativity and innovation on track. Rabe tells us to look for renaissance-thinkers and creative generalists who have expertise in related areas, but not in your specific area of expertise. It is important to empower these individuals to question and challenge, and bring a different perspective to the work at hand.

This would seem to align with my post earlier regarding building innovative cultures, and the idea that you need to attract talent to your team that bring both a unique perspective AND a willingness to challenge convention, argue on behalf of ideas, and embrace risk.

NASA Begins Looking For a Ride

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Patiently waiting for a ride to work…

NASA is trying to move quickly to finish the International Space Station before they decommission the Space Shuttle in 2010. This is primarily because the program currently in development to replace the shuttle, the Orion orbital vehicle and Constellation launch system, will most likely not be operational until 2015. This leaves a four to five year period where NASA will not be able to access space without the help of others, whether they be companies or nations. The good news is that at that time there will be several options as , , the , and possibly even will have operational orbital programs, not to mention the private ventures like and (two very cool companies, definitely check them out) that are currently contracted by NASA to develop supplementary ISS transport and support programs. The program from SpaceX, the , is planned to be operational by 2010. I imagine that Sir Richard Branson would be willing to help, if needed.

As recently as last week to talking with the Russian space program regarding negotiating the purchase of use of their Soyuz and Progress orbital programs, in the event that contracting with private space companies does not provide the necessary capacity. Given that it is now 2008, and that the shuttle goes defunct in 2010, it is in NASA’s best interest to have these plans solidified as soon as possible. Otherwise, our astronauts and researchers face a space access bottleneck at exactly the time that the International Space Station becomes fully operational.

Innovation, Failure And Ignore Your Customers…

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

The Engine of Innovation

We have spent a fair amount of time on this site investigating issues and ideas around innovation (especially back in October of last year). This is because few things can so substantially affect the fortunes of a company to the extent that supporting innovation can. Nothing new here, open any business magazine or visit any number of blogs and innovation is being discussed. This pervasiveness is born out of the priority and value we place on being able build the cultures that allow us to innovate consistently, and well. It is also because creating these cultures is incredibly challenging, and we benefit from learning how others have navigated these challenges.

I read yesterday an excellent article in Architectural Record by Andrew Pressman titled that offered a perspective that warrants sharing. This perspective begins with the increasing recognition that a firm’s cultural environment is a critical factor not only in producing the best possible design work but also in attracting and retaining both new staff and clients. In any creative enterprise you are only as good as your people, teams, and degree to which they are supported. A significant component of the talent war is demonstrating to prospects that you offer the culture that will support them in their creative work. Additionally, just as the business press is permeated with investigations into innovation, so are clients. The expectation for design excellence, and for teams and methodologies that put innovation front and center, should be considered a best practice by clients looking for creative services. For creative teams, fostering this culture and being able to identify successful outcomes is a significant competitive differentiator.

The article highlights an approach promoted by in work featured in the Harvard Business Review back in 2000/2001, but still right on the money. It is an extreme approach to fostering innovation and acknowledges that new perspectives and ideas often emanate from “mavericks” with wildly diverse backgrounds, who harbor no preconceptions, and who are undaunted in challenging the status quo and championing their ideas. These mavericks are invaluable to successful innovation subcultures, and their ultimate impact on the organizational culture at large. Sounds good. The main points of this approach:

  • - Hire naive misfits who argue with you
  • - Encourage failure
  • - Avoid letting client input limit your vision
  • - Fully commit to risky ventures

I’ll let you read the article to get the full story, but there is some particularly valuable insight offered by , an innovator and inventor of microprocessors, with respect to how client input can limit your vision. He says:

“Don’t do what your customers want; Do something better.”

Ted Hoff

I think all of the points above are important, and while they may sound somewhat intuitive they are very difficult to maintain in practice. Many organizations exist specifically to limit the existence of these behaviors, they are counterintuitive to an “established” enterprise and threaten the order that some managers can spend their entire careers trying to create. They defy predictability, and therefore deny managers the ability to financially model and plan. Therein lies the challenge, to encourage these behaviors in support of an innovative culture and in contrast to the ubiquitous corporate model. To realize and champion that business as usual in creative enterprise is a definitive path to extinction.

The Soviet Ekranoplan and WIG

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Soviet Ekranoplan

The Cold War was the catalyst for the development of a diversity of interesting vehicles, platforms and technologies, but few have been of more interesting to me than the Soviet “Lun” ekranoplan pictured above and below. The Soviet Union began developing the ground effect technology in the 1930’s, but the craft reached a pinnacle of sorts in the 1980’s with the Lun (one of which can be seen at ), though WIG craft have yet to reach any broad application, whether military or commercial. benefit from WIG in two important ways, the first being the ability to achieve incredibly high speeds and the second that flying at 10 to 50 feet above the surface makes them largely undetectable by radar.

WIG works as a high pressure region develops beneath the wing’s lower surface and above the water surface, which enhances its lift compared to a conventional wing in free air. The close proximity of the water also disrupts the formation of wing-tip vortices, which are a major cause of induced drag on conventional wings in free air. To benefit from WIG, the airfoil must have a relatively flat lower surface in order to increase lift. WIG craft have an advantage over water-bourne craft in that a huge amount of power is needed to overcome the drag of the water. By flying just above the water that power can be used for speed and carrying capacity.

Ekranoplans were developed in a range of sizes and applications, but they could reach enormous proportions and cargo carrying capacity. The Lun, among the largest to be developed, spanned 240 feet long with a wingspan of 144 feet. Its size would be comparable to a . It had a maximum takeoff weight of 882,000 pounds and a range of over 1,800 miles. This behemoth could cruise at 341 mph, leaving traditional naval vessels quickly in its wake.

Several nations, including Russia and the United States, continue to explore the potential of WIG (like the ), and appears to have an active WIG program, but to date none have pushed this technology to the limit as Soviet designers and engineers did towards the end of the Cold War.

Soviet Ekranoplan at rest

A Soviet Lun Ekranoplan transport at rest with crew on the exterior giving an idea of the size of the craft.

Video showing a range of Ekranoplans in action:

Bauhaus, Endless

Friday, February 8th, 2008

Bauhaus

Few things have been as expansively influential in the world of design and the emerging Modern movement as the school and design movement that originated out of Dessau, Germany shortly after WWI ended. Bauhaus translates roughly into English to mean “house of building.” Though very short lived, existing only from when (a recently decommissioned German officer) founded the school in 1919 to its disbanding in 1933, enough people were touched by the design leadership and thinking at the school to carry it throughout the world. That, and many of the instructors found themselves at schools elsewhere in the world where they could continue the good work and sharpen the minds of future designers and architects. Walter Gropius ended up at Harvard’s design school in 1934, subsequently helping a number of students and instructors make their way to positions and careers in the United States. This migration of Bauhausians to the United States set the stage for the launching of a design movement here that lasts to this day.

There is a concise that gives a nice overview of the Bauhaus and some of the personalities that made it happen. The article is in response to what sounds like an excellent exhibit tracing the history of the Bauhaus at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.

The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Orion CEV

That graphic above looks like it could have been from 1969. I posted about the Constellation and Orion programs earlier, but just spent way to much time on and found an excellent and concise summary of the details around the Orion CEV. It is interesting how much from the Apollo program we are leveraging for Orion and Constellation. NASA has gone back to the future, so to speak. It makes perfect sense, in the vein of continuous improvement, as the Apollo program worked very well nearly forty years ago. With today’s advancements in electronics, computers, materials, and propulsion (not to mention everything we have learned from the shuttle and the ISS), Orion should benefit from a very long list of innovations and improvements. Earlier I had read that this program would not be coming online until 2015, five years after the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle leaving quite a gap in our ability to reach space without the help of others. Now I am seeing estimates of 2011 for Orion to be operational, keeping us in what is building up to be an incredibly competitive space race with China, India, Japan, Russia, and the ESA.

Cutting Undersea Cables?

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

map of undersea communications cables

We’re in heavy speculative mode. Not thinking conspiracy or act of sabotage, at least not yet, but wondering what exactly is going on in the ocean off the coast of Egypt, Dubai and the UAE. On Wednesday of last week it was revealed that first one, then two undersea cables had been “damaged” in the waters off the coast of the Alexandria, Egypt, effectively causing an internet “blackout” in parts of the Middle East. Then, on Friday, India’s Reliance Communications announced that a third cable had been rendered inoperable off the coast of the UAE. Today, news of a fourth cable being damaged off the coast of Dubai. The cables are thought to be fixable, but ships are being delayed by bad weather and an on-site situation analysis is still days away. So, what is happening? There has been media speculation about ship anchors severing the cables (seems unlikely), acts of terrorism (highly unlikely), submarines (hmmm…), seismic activity (likely), and power system failures (seems likely). I am sure we will know in the next few days what exactly has happened, but realizing how fragile our communications infrastructure is as it relates to the internet is disconcerting to say the least. Fortunately, the inherently decentralized nature of the internet has allowed for efficient workarounds to the damaged cables, but losing four cables in less than a week in geographically distant but related areas is cause for concern.

Suffice it to say that the ability to sever communications cables, like the ability to knock out satellites, would be something coveted by many, many nations.

More information , , and .

Update 1: Just read at the that the ship anchor cause for the damaged submarine cables may actually be the answer to this mystery. It seems that the bad weather stopped shipping traffic, and ships anchored in a “no parking zone” directly over the area the cables are in. Ships move while anchored, anchors drag and snag cables, cables get damaged.

Now, what about the other two cables?

Update 2: Found this of the effects of the damaged cables in the Mediterranean on data throughput. More detail as to where the cables were damaged, with one off the coast of Marseilles, France, and the other near Alexandria, Egypt. This report does not mention the other two cables off Dubai and UAE.

Update 3: I just read that yesterday, February 5th, a fifth cable in the Mediterranean has been cut. Very interesting how this story is developing.

Update 4: Turns out it was only the original four cables that were disrupted and that three of those cables are expected to be back on line within the next couple of days. I listened to a telecom/telephony expert on NPR yesterday and he made a sound argument that these events actually happen all of the time and that submarine cables are subject to a great number of potential interruptions. This is precisely why the network is distributed, diffuse and decentralized.

Space Architecture & The International Space Station

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

ISS 2007 configuration

The International Space Station has been underway for so long that I think it is often just forgotten about. Work commenced in 1998, so its been under construction for nearly a full decade. But it’s up there and manned 24/7/365. We should collectively pay more attention to the development of the ISS as that is where the future of humanity is slowly (very, very slowly) being shaped. That, and we’re freaking building this thing in space. Most are at least familiar with the station if only because of the problems that have plagued its construction, including the problems with the NASA space shuttle that have caused major construction delays. There have been some close calls for the astronauts and scientists manning the ISS, and some difficult learning experiences for the international team tasked with building Earth’s first large scale “permanent” space platform. But that is the whole point, really, to learn along the way. Building this station is an incredible undertaking.

Some quick ISS facts:

  • - It is the largest and most complex international science project in history
  • - 27 nations are actively involved in its construction, most not having a space program
  • - When completed it will weigh over 1 million pounds
  • - It will ultimately be 356 feet across and 290 feet long
  • - The solar panels on the ISS would cover an acre
  • - It is in orbit approximately 250 statute miles from Earth
  • - It completes 15.77 orbits of the Earth each day
  • - The station has been continuously inhabited since November, 2002
  • - It will eventually have 15,000 cubic feet of living space
  • - The costs to create the ISS will exceed $130 billion, far beyond the original budget
  • - Five space tourists have visited, paying $25 million each for the opportunity
  • - The microgravity environment on the station is 88% of Earth’s gravity
  • - As of today it has been in orbit 3,362 days, and has been inhabited for 2,651 days
  • - For this pinnacle of human technological achievement, it looks rickety

There is a tremendous amount of valuable research already underway on the station, including experiments in biology, medicine, physics, biotechnology, materials research, cosmology and meteorology. Obviously, much more is planned and as more research modules come online the opportunities will increase. 2010 is tentatively planned to be the year of completion. But that will certainly be subject to change. Oddly, the year that the station is completed is the year that NASA decommissions the space shuttle with its replacement, the Orion/Constellation program, not coming online until 2015.

Some images I grabbed of the ISS for review:

This image, from 2001/2002, shows the initial operational solar arrays.

ISS from approach

This is the station configuration as of November, 2007.

ISS in 2007

Very cool image of an astronaut capturing a reflection of the ISS and the Earth below in his face mask.

astronaut selfshot with ISS in background

A detail shot of the connection between one of the solar arrays and a module. Note the astronaut working on the station in the upper center of the image.

ISS appendage and solar array

Another detail. The exterior is incredibly complex. There is an astronaut in the image towards the center middle providing the scale of this module. The arm in the image was manufactured by Canada.

ISS under construction

A space shuttle preparing to dock with the station. The shuttle has been the primary large payload delivery vehicle for the ISS. The Russians provide supplies and take away refuse via manned and unmanned capsules.

Shot of shuttle from ISS

A chart showing the breakdown of components and with nation’s of origin.

ISS components breakdown

More from . Check out the interactive informational tour.