The International Space Station Celebrates The United World Space Program
Source: Open Talk Magazine 04/02/2011 03:09:00
Experiments concerning prolonged exposure of man to the harsh environment of space have been done for almost two decades since the start of the national space programs. The Salyut space stations of the former USSR were some of the very first attempts to put man for a longer period of time in space. The United States had also launched the Skylab space station with similar research objectives. The Russian Mir stayed in orbit for 15 years before it was deorbited on March 21, 2001.
Of all of the space stations launched in space during the 20th century, only the Mir space station had the opportunity to welcome members of other space agencies. Moving towards the 21st century however, space agencies around the world are currently working together to build and complete what is possibly the most important space station in history. Welcome aboard the International Space Station, the very first true space station of planet Earth.
The International Space Station (ISS) is the product of the collaboration of many countries around the world. It is basically an orbital research facility, just like its predecessors, and is the next generation of its kind. The construction for the facility started in 1998, and continues to be fitted with additional installations and is scheduled to be completed in 2011. The project to build the ISS was actually an answer to the financial crisis of all space programs around the world during the end of the 20th century. All of the major players in the world’s space program just couldn’t afford to launch their own space stations because of economic pressures, and thus had agreed to help each other build one. The unification of Japan, Canada, Russia, the United States, and the European Union for a collaborative space program eventually gave birth to the ISS.
There are currently at least 46 major components that make up the ISS—all of which financed by different participating countries and was either constructed in the Untied States or Russia. The starting component of the ISS was the Zarya module, launched on November 20, 1998 using a Proton-K carrier rocket. This initial launch was soon followed by other launches, installing different components every few months afterwards. The latest component of the ISS was the Rassvet mini-research module, launched by the space shuttle Atlantis on May 14, 2010.
The ISS gets visited by new crew members during scheduled flights, usually around 6 astronauts (sometimes as many as 7 or as few as 3 astronauts) from the participating countries. The very first crew of the ISS went aboard on December 4, 1998, with a mission to install the Unity module to the Zarya module. Several civilian astronauts also visit the ISS from time to time. Some of the previous ones were Dennis Tito (American, 2001), Mark Shuttleworth (South African, 2002), and Anousheh Ansari (Iranian/American, 2006). The latest civilian astronaut that visited the ISS was Guy Laliberté (Canadian, 2009).
The exact location of the ISS gets a real time update as seen at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) official website (http://esa.heavens-above.com/esa/iss_step1.asp). The ISS is by far the largest artificial object in the sky, and can be visibly seen by the naked eye on a clear night. If you see the ISS heading towards your country, you might see it as a fast moving star that would sometimes fade into the darkness as it faces away from the sun.
After its scheduled completion in 2011, the ISS is expected to remain fully operational until 2015-2020. But even if the ISS gets decommissioned after that, the fact that it was the crown glory of the world’s unification for a joint space program will always be remembered for many generations. The ISS could even be an inspiration for an even better and more ambitious space project that would once again reunite all of the world’s space agencies.