International Space Station turns 10

It’s time to say Happy Birthday – to the International Space Station.

The International Space Station, one of the great examples of humanity’s technological evolution, turns 10 today.

The ISS began its life in 1998 with a Russian Proton rocket, lifting the module Zarya into orbit. Since then, 78 flights in total (44 manned, 34 unmanned) have been made to the International Space Station carrying solar arrays, supplies and upgrade modules to the craft.

167 humans from 15 countries have set foot on the International Space Station, and despite the blown out cost of the operation, the station is still the one place humanity can go on hiatus from the Earth.

In fact, one of the station’s main operations is to study the long term effect of humans living in space. The ISS is designed to be permanently manned – which it has been since 2000 – and construction of the project, which will make the ISS the size of a football field, is set to finish in 2011.

Apart from studying the universe and life as we know it the International Space Station is also the stop for space tourists. Six people have paid around US $25 million to travel into space, including Yuri Malenchenko, the first person to be married in space (although his partner was in Texas during that time).

But a project like the ISS doesn’t come cheap, and is usually viewed as a luxury during any period of financial toil. British newspaper The Independent asked if the International Space Station was worth the money, summarising both sides of the coin into three points:

Yes…

* It ensured that Russian rocket scientists did not stray to rogue states with nuclear ambitions.

* It cemented a bond of scientific collaboration between nearly 20 nations involved in the space station.

* It is a brilliant scientific and technological achievement that will be useful for further space missions.

No…

* The little useful science it has provided could have been gathered more cheaply using robot spacecraft.

* It has given science a bad name by involving commercial gimmickry such as space tourism and space golf.

* Low-earth orbit is intrinsically less exciting than the exploration of the Moon and planets.

The Independent

But more critical is the future of the International Space Station, which is currently in turmoil. With the financial crisis in full swing, and the cost of the project having grown exponentially over time, the American capability to launch crews into space has diminished substantially.

A leaked email from NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin in September highlighted that “the game has changed” and that the previous American Government (the Bush Administration) refused to fund any operations past 2010. Future operations could be flown using Russian crews, but NASA were politically unable to buy them due to the conflict in Georgia, rendering the future of the Space Station in jeopardy.

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin has said that the International Space Station was a stepping stone on the way to human exploration and scientific discovery.

“On the space station, we will learn how to live and work in space. We will learn how to build hardware that can survive and function for the years required to make the round-trip voyage from Earth to Mars.” said Griffin in a feature on the NASA website.

Fortunately, president-elect Barack Obama has publicly supported the continued funding of the International Space Station. So, here’s to you ISS, and happy birthday.

Sources: The Big Picture, The Independent, NASA, SpaceRef.com, MSNBC

Leave a Reply