The International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is an international space station that was launched into orbit by Russia in 1998. The ISS is occupied by both crew and payloads and is continuously staffed. The crew members live and work permanently in external space, while the cargo vessels deliver supplies and equipment to the station. In addition to its scientific value, the ISS has been a major achievement for international cooperation.
At its inception, the ISS was a joint project between Russia, the United States, Japan, Canada and 11 other countries— it took fifteen years to build. The ISS’s construction started in 1991 with the launch of the Russian-built station Tiangong 1. This first launch of an ISS module was followed by multiple launches of other modules over several years. After all the modules were together in orbit, crews started living aboard the station in 1998— this date is officially recognized as “International Crew Day” by UNESCO. Over time, there have been twelve crew members aboard the station at any given time.
The primary role of the ISS is to study outer space phenomena such as solar flares and black holes using astronauts as avatars on external screens. It also has applications for medical research, technology development, surveillance of Earth and space weather forecasting. Several experiments are conducted aboard the ISS using commercially developed equipment or custom-made devices supplied by research institutions around the world. The experiments aim to increase knowledge about space and all its aspects so that mankind can achieve its goals on Earth and in outer space. Apart from scientific research, astronauts on board have taken tourists on cruises through space— these trips are called “space walks” or “space flights” depending on their duration.
Apart from being a science project, the ISS is a major achievement for international cooperation since it involves many countries working together towards a common goal. Many countries have contributed financially or technologically to making this project a reality— their contributions include building and operating spacecraft as well as supplying materials for experiments conducted inside the station. Several countries have also hosted international conferences where scientists from different countries shared ideas on experimentation aboard the ISS. Additionally, several countries have sent their astronauts to work at the station since it was originally a Russian project— now only thirteen countries maintain crew members aboard the station at any given time (Figure 3).
Since they began working there in 2002, astronauts aboard the ISS have performed multiple experiments using cutting-edge technology such as 3D printers and artificial muscle systems intended for rehabilitation of astronauts’ limbs lost due to age or injury (Figure 4). The unique features of working in outer space necessitates constant monitoring of health conditions in order to respond quickly when medical emergencies occur on Earth— responding to life-threatening situations while simultaneously conducting scientific research is no easy task! Astronauts spend most of their time performing routine tasks such as maintaining power systems that regulate temperature on board or replacing outdated parts in facilities such as navigation systems or communications equipment located outside Earth’s atmosphere. Other tasks include conducting experiments with samples collected from various locations around Earth or delivering fresh supplies including food items for animals stationed at exterior stations such as Kibo-the Japanese HTV cargo vessel (Figure 5).
Although initially expensive due to delays caused by political discord between its contributors over funding priorities, costs eventually decreased due to decreased funding required after initial launches established key technological groundwork for future projects (Figure 6). In addition to lowering costs due to decreasing costs associated with maintaining crews onboard during multiple simultaneous launches, an unexpected benefit has been increased efficiency due to continual advancements made by onboard technological equipment since 1998 (Figure 7). After twenty years full of hard work — training and research — crews onboard have finally achieved their goal: they are able run all experiments without interference!