Fifteenth Anniversary Of First Humans To Cross Threshold Into ISS
December 9, 2013

Fifteenth Anniversary Of First Humans To Cross Threshold Into ISS

[ Watch the Video: Happy Birthday ISS! ]

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

On Dec. 10, 2013 NASA and its 15 international partners will celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the first humans to enter the International Space Station (ISS). While a continuous human presence did not begin until Nov 2, 2000, the six-person crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-88) were the first to cross the threshold.


The story of the ISS actually began nearly three weeks earlier when, on Nov 20, 1998, the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) launched a Proton rocket that lifted the pressurized module Zarya – translated as “sunrise” – into orbit. Zarya was the first piece of what would soon become the International Space Station. Also known as the Functional Cargo Block (FGB), Zarya would host the controls, communications and electrical power while awaiting other elements – Zvezda and Unity modules -- of the station to be delivered.

Bill Bastedo, who was at the time launch package manager for the Unity module (Node 1), said, “It was actually, for us, exciting to have Zarya on orbit so we could get our chance to execute our mission.”

Bastedo, who is now senior VP of Booz Allen Hamilton, got his chance to shine a few weeks later on Dec. 4, 1998 when Endeavour launched Unity, the first US piece of the ISS, during the STS-88 mission, which was commanded by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

“We definitely knew there was no margin for error on that first mission—we had to be successful,” Cabana 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.”

Years before the launch of Unity, Bastedo was heading a team that developed Unity and its pressurized mating adaptors.

“We had to work closely with the Kennedy Space Center, the Space Shuttle Program Office and the Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) to plan the launch, on-orbit operations for the 14-day mission and define every detail of how we would assemble it on orbit,” Bastedo said.

Bastedo and his team were very confident in their technical know-how, and they set the standard for future space station assembly missions.

“I was very confident in our ability to dock the two,” Bastedo said. “I was most worried about making sure we could verify that Unity, the mating adaptors and Zarya all worked as a system together and we could safely leave it on orbit, because it was going to be about a six-month gap until the next flight. It turns out it was a lot of worry about nothing, because it almost went flawlessly.”

Zarya and Unity, being constructed on opposite sides of the planet, were about to be joined together for the very first time, truly making the orbiting infrastructure an international complex. Since that first pairing, the space station grew piece by piece with additions from each of the 15 international partners from three continents, becoming the largest and most complex spacecraft ever constructed.

Today, the ISS is four times larger than Mir and five time larger than Skylab and represents a collaboration between NASA, Roscosmos, ESA, JAXA and the Canadian Space Agency, representing 15 countries in all.


With Zarya and Unity being successfully mated on Dec. 6, 1998, the actual birth date of the International Space Station, the stage was set for the first humans to enter the newly formed international complex. But who was the first to enter?

It may have been a tough call to make, with a six-person crew aboard the shuttle Endeavour all wanting to be part of history. Cabana was the Commander of the mission so it was likely his call to go first. However, at the time, when asked by the press, as well as his own crew, who would be the first to go, Cabana would not provide an answer.

The answer did come on Dec. 10, 1998 when the hatches to the US Unity node and Russian-built Zarya module swung open for the first time, allowing the passage of humans into the ISS.

Being an international endeavor, it only seemed fitting that two men went first, both representing their respective countries. USA's Cabana crossed the threshold side by side with cosmonaut crewmate Sergei Krikalev.

“It was an International Space Station, and I felt it very important that we enter as an international crew,” Cabana told Florida Today in a recent interview.

Cabana, in his Florida Today interview, recalls the moments leading up to the team’s entry into the ISS.

Once the two modules had come together, he said two separate spacewalks had to be conducted to connect cables and install antennas before the six-member team – five Americans and one Russian – could venture into uncharted territory for the first time.

“It was everything that we hoped for, to be inside the space station, to get to work inside there, to prepare it for the first crew,” Cabana said. “That was a special day.”


Even after Cabana’s team had come and gone, assembly had continued on the station up until the final shuttle missions in 2011. In all, more than a $100 billion in parts had been built and launched to become part of the orbiting space lab, by far the largest endeavor ever launched by an international collaboration.

The job to build, develop, maintain and upgrade the station required countless missions and numerous spacewalks – called extra-vehicular activity (EVA) missions.

Among the upgrades to the ISS, several major components had been launched through the years to add to the orbiting space complex.

Russia’s Zvezda Service Module became the third component to be added to the ISS. It was launched on a Proton rocket on July 12, 2000 and docked with the Zarya module on July 26, 2000.

The Mobile Servicing System, otherwise known as Canadarm 2, was launched to the ISS in 2001 and became an important tool in the assembly and maintenance of the ISS through the years.

Harmony (Node 2) was launched aboard STS-120 on Oct. 23, 2007 and attached temporarily to the Unity node before being permanently moved to the Destiny laboratory on Nov. 14, 2007. According to NASA, Harmony’s addition to the ISS meant the station was “US Core Complete.”

The Poisk module, also known as the Mini-Research Module 2, was the first major addition to the ISS from Russia since 2001. It was berthed to the Zvezda module on Nov. 12, 2009.

On Feb. 8, 2010, the ESA/Italian Space Agency’s Tranquility (Node 3) module was launched by NASA, who had acquired ownership of the module, aboard STS-130. Tranquility was berthed to the port side of the Unity node on Feb. 12, 2010.


Apart from the many components that have been launched to the ISS, the station itself has been a significant tool for scientific research in many fields.

“Cabana now sees the station as a critical proving ground for technologies and research about living in microgravity that will be needed for longer missions to a destination like Mars,” writes Florida Today’s James Dean. “He believes the international collaboration will serve as a model for exploration missions farther out into space.”

“International cooperation is one of the great values that has come from the space station,” said Camille Alleyne, EdD, assistant program scientist for education and communications at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Researchers across 68 countries have collaborated on different investigations, and that is a very important aspect of advancing microgravity research.”

The ISS has been a vessel for more than 1,500 investigations, providing a home for ongoing scientific discovery. Research aboard the orbiting lab has included work across numerous disciplines, including biology, biotechnology, Earth science, space science, and human research, as well as medical, science and technology development. Education has also been a big part of the ISS over the past 15 years.

Probably the most notable educational tool has been the long-running Sally Ride EarthKam, which has been part of the ISS since Expedition 1. EarthKam is a NASA-funded educational outreach program that is run with the collaboration of the University of San Diego. EarthKam has benefited more than 165,000 students from 41 countries.

The program allows students to view Earth from the perspective of an astronaut aboard the space station and capture images from the US Destiny Laboratory window. It enhances students’ learning experiences and is designed to inspire a new generation to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In all, more than 69 countries have put research of some kind onto the ISS that has advanced space exploration and has provided human benefits in some way.

“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. “Station 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. It has provided us the framework for how we will move forward as we explore beyond our home planet, not as explorers from any one country, but as explorers from planet Earth. 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. 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,” Cabana added.


The International Space Station was born on Dec. 6, 1998 when Russia’s Zarya and NASA’s Unity modules were mated. Commander Bob Cabana and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev were the first humans to enter the space station on Dec. 10, 1998. The first continuous human presence began on Nov. 2, 2000 when Expedition 1 crew entered the station for the very first time. Since then, at least three people have been aboard the station at all times, occasionally a crew of nine called the ISS home for short intervals.

Today, the ISS has 32,333 cubic feet of pressurized volume and weighs in at more than 950,000 pounds. The orbiting complex provides more livable room than a conventional six-bedroom home.

The ISS travels an equivalent distance to the moon and back in a single day. Traveling at a speed of about 17,100 mph, the station makes an orbit of the Earth about once every 90 minutes and has orbited the Earth more than 86,000 times in 15 years.

As of Dec 10, 2013, the ISS will have been in orbit 5499 days and have been continuously inhabited for 4786 days.

The International Space Station is controlled by 52 on-board computers.

The orbiting complex is scheduled to operate through 2020, but NASA is hoping to extend service through 2028, which has been shown to be technically feasible by a number of studies and models.

For now, Cabana is happy to still see it up there.

“It’s really neat to know that I had a role to play in that,” he told Florida Today, referring to helping put the space station together. “It’s very special to see that bright star in the sky in the early evening or late morning as it goes overhead.”