ISS: international collaboration

Due to Russian Space Station Project ‘Mir’ that operated in low Earth orbit, by the Soviet Union and later by Russia. Due to the Cold War and keeping technological supremacy, NASA’s interest in the Mir Space program was strictly as a stepping stone, and it intended soon after the final shuttle mission in early 1998 to put into. The Space project, started as an American effort, was long delayed by financial funding and technical problems in the process. United States’ President Ronald Reagan called this project “Freedom”, He authorized the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to build it within ten years, it was redesigned in the 90s to reduce production and maintenance costs and expand international involvement in the project. In 1993 the United States and Russia agreed to merge their separate space station plans into a single facility integrating their respective modules and integrating contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan.

MIR space station

Assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) began with the launches of the Russian control module Zarya on 20 November 1998, and the United States built Unity connecting node the following month, which were linked in orbit by United States space shuttle astronauts. In the mid of 2000, the Russian module Zvezda, a habitat and control center, was added. On 2 November of that year the International Space Station received its first crew: Russian cosmonauts Sergey Krikalyov and Yuri Gidzenko and American astronaut William Shepherd, who flew up in a Russian built Soyuz spacecraft. The International Space Station has been continuously occupied since then.

A NASA microgravity lab called ‘Destiny’ and other elements were subsequently joined to the international station: with the overall plan calling for the assembly, for several years, of a complex of laboratories and habitats crossed by a long truss supporting four units that held large solar-powered arrays and thermal radiators. Apart from the United States and Russia, ISS construction involved Canada, Japan, Brazil, and 11 other European Space Agency members. Russian modules were carried into space by Russian expendable launch vehicles, after which they automatically rendezvoused with and docked to the International Space Station. Other elements were ferried up by space shuttle to ISS and then assembled in orbit during spacewalks of the crew. Both U.S. shuttles and Russian Soyuz spacecraft transported people to and from the ISS, and a Soyuz remained docked to the International Space Station at all times as a “lifeboat.”

Destiny microgravity lab

Much of the early research work by the International Space Station astronauts was to focus on long term life sciences and material sciences investigations in the weightless and atmosphere-less environment. After the incident of the space shuttle orbiter Columbia in February 2003, the shuttle fleet was grounded, which effectively stopped the expansion of the station. Meanwhile, the crew was reduced from 3 to 2, and their role was limited. They were mainly performing status checks and serviceability monitoring tasks, limiting the amount of science that could be done. Crews flew up to and returned from the International Space Station in Soyuz spacecraft, and the station was serviced by automated Progress ferries.

After the shuttle resumed regular flights in 2006, the International Space Station crew size was increased to three. Construction continued in September of 2006, with the addition of a pair of solar wings and a thermal radiator. In October of 2007, the European built American node named ‘Harmony’ was placed on the end of Destiny. Harmony has a docking port for the space shuttle and connecting ports for a European lab Columbus, and a Japanese lab Kibo at ISS. In February of 2008, Columbus was mounted on Harmony’s starboard side. Columbus was the first European long-duration crewed space lab and contained experiments in the fields of biology and fluid dynamics. Following that month, an improved variant of the ‘Ariane V’ rocket launched the heaviest spacecraft of Europe, the ‘Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle’ (ATV), which carried 17,000 pounds of essential supplies to the International Space Station. In March 2008, shuttle astronauts brought the robot from Canada called Dextre, which was so sophisticated that it was able to perform tasks that previously required astronauts to make spacewalks and the first part of Japanese Kibo Lab. In mid-2008, the central part of Kibo was correctly installed.

Inside the Kibo module

The International Space Station became fully operational in May of 2009 when it began hosting a six-person crew that required two Soyuz lifeboats to be docked with the International Space Station at all times. The six-person team has typically consisted of three Russians, two Americans, and one astronaut from Japan, Canada, or the European Space Agency. An external platform was attached to the far end of the Kibo lab in July of 2009, and a Russian docking port and airlock, Poisk, was integrated into the Zvezda module near Christmas of 2009. A third node named as Tranquility was installed in 2010, and mounted on this was a dome, whose robotic workstation and many windows enabled astronauts to supervise external operations by opening and closing it.

After completion of the International Space Station, the shuttle was retired from service in 2011. After that, the International Space Station was serviced by Russia’s Progress, Europe’s ATV, Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, and two commercial cargo vehicles, SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus. Two new American crew capsules, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and the Boeing Company’s CST-100 Starliner were scheduled for first crewed test flights in 2019. Until then, astronauts used Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station.

More than 200 astronauts from 20 different countries have visited the International Space Station so far. Astronauts typically stay on the International Space Station for about six months. About every three months, a Soyuz Craft returns to Earth with three astronauts, and a Soyuz launches with three astronauts to replace them on ISS. The return of a Soyuz to Earth marks the end of an International Space Station Expedition, and the command of the International Space Station is transferred to another astronaut simultaneously.


The space agencies that are partners in the International Space Station have not definitively decided when the program will end, but in 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama administration indicated that the program would receive United States support until 2024. Russia has expressed a deep interest in reusing its International Space Station modules in future space stations.

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