Les Meredith's recent statement in Eos (September 29, p. 770) on objectives and uses of NASA's proposed space station argues that microgravity research, manufacturing, space physics, astrophysics, and Earth observations are not good justifications for the present zero-gravity design of the station. In my view, he is correct for the general issues of remote sensing, whether it is toward Earth or the planets and beyond. Such observations are indeed better carried out by automated platforms.
But in the case of microgravity and space biomedicine, his arguments lose force. Science in the microgravity environment is a field of basic research ranging from materials science to studies of structure of large organic molecules. Today, and for the foreseeable future, the fundamental experiments to be done in the microgravity environment require close interaction with human experimenters, as in a ground-based laboratory. The space station with its microgravity environment and open access to astronauts, provides an environment consistent with the needs of that field of basic research. As we move to manufacturing, the needs for human interaction may become less, but that is probably decades away.