International Space Station Celebrates 15th Anniversary
[ Watch the Video: International Space Station Turns 15 Today ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
November 20 marks the 15 year anniversary that nations united to build the most advanced space laboratory every created — the International Space Station (ISS).
In November 1998, an autonomous Russian Proton rocket took up the first module of the space station, Zarya. This module, also known as the Functional Cargo Block, provided electrical power, storage, propulsion and guidance to the space station during the initial stage of assembly.
“We were in the control center in Houston that night to watch Zarya launch, along with a good number of people from the program,” Bill Bastedo, who is currently senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, said in a statement. “It was actually, for us, exciting to have Zarya on orbit so we could get our chance to execute our mission.”
After a couple weeks, Zarya met up with NASA module Unity, which was launched aboard space shuttle flight STS-88. Astronauts attached Unity to Zarya, setting the stage for years of construction, as well as science.
“We definitely knew there was no margin for error on that first mission—we had to be successful,” Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, who was commander of the STS-88 mission, said in a statement. “We also knew that it wasn’t all on the crew. This was a team effort, and everyone was giving it all they had to ensure success. We had the privilege of following Node 1 from an aluminum shell…to a fully functioning spacecraft on orbit.”
For two years space agencies began building up the space station in preparation for the first crew, Expedition 1, to arrive in November 2000 on a Soyuz TM-31.
The ISS is a milestone in both technology and international collaboration. The international participation includes the Japanese space agency (JAXA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Russian Space Agency (Roskosmos) and NASA.
For years, NASA and Roskosmos were considered to be rivals when it came to activities in space. The space station marked the end of that rivalry, and the beginning of a partnership between two countries that once raced to the moon.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since we joined Unity and Zarya in orbit and laid the cornerstone for the International Space Station,” Cabana said. “[ISS} is truly an engineering marvel and a testament to what we can accomplish when we all work together. I think one of the most enduring legacies will be the international cooperation we have achieved in building and operating it.”
Over 69 countries have put research on the space station that has helped advanced space exploration and provided the scientific community with intel to improve human life on Earth. Some of the technologies that have risen out of space station research include neurosurgical medical technology, water purification technology, agricultural monitoring, and remote telemedicine.
“We have seen great results in areas such as biotechnology, Earth and space sciences, human research, the physical sciences and technology being accomplished in this remarkable laboratory in space,” Cabana said. “It takes time, but I truly believe there will be even greater amazing breakthroughs that come from it, especially in the field of medicine. The ISS is the engineering test bed that enables us to prove the systems we need and deal with the crew health issues that must be solved for us to actually go beyond Earth for extended periods of time, when we eventually go to Mars and beyond.”
Since the space station was first crewed, about 25,000 meals have been eaten. The ISS now weighs around 900,000 pounds and is about the size of a six-bedroom house. Fifty-two computers control the systems on the orbiting laboratory as it travels the distance to the Moon and back in about a day.