History of the Collaborative International Space Station
The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race, technological advanced and potentially a stepping-stone for space exploration of the future. Based upon a Memorandum of Understanding between U.S. and Russian space agencies, it was to serve as a staging base for future missions to the moon and planets, or beyond. Assembled as of 1998 from Russian modules and then assisted by delivery of components from the Space Shuttle (since retired), The first crew arrived in 2000 – with the code name for the ISS changed to “alpha” by astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonaut Krikalev (as it was shorter to say). Its associated data is significant, from its structure to its performance – it has been circling the globe every 90 minutes, at speed of 17,500 mph. The $100 billion international space effort, in collaboration with 15 countries (and five space agencies – NASA, Roscosmos from Russia, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), houses live humans for months and docks spacecraft.
Over 115 space flights have been conducted on various types of launch vehicles over time. In terms of function, 52 computers control the ISS systems, and its 70-90 KW power is supplied by one acre of solar panels.
ISS: Present State
Today, the ISS measures the size of a football field (with endzones), liveable room the size of a five-bedroom house, two bathrooms, a gym, and truly panoramic space views. With six person crews typically staying 4-6 months, new technology has continued to be tried, such as related to 3-D printing, laser communication/satellites, and different research projects. In the event of a need for evacuation, two Russian Soyuz vehicles may be used (with replacement planned with SpaceX’s Boeing spacecraft in 2017).
Today’s research equipment on board further includes an Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to detect dark matter, medical testing machine to test muscle atrophy and bone loss in a weightless environment (which may dissuade bone growth), and other machines for specific tasks.
Important considerations in space include strong ventilation (because exhaled carbon dioxide accumulates around the nose, and in absence of flowing air oxygen cannot be delivered), ability to sleep while floating in sleeping bags (avoided to not injure equipment), and reduced food taste of the vacuum bag-packed items. Given difficulty of showering in space, crews use a water jet, edible toothpaste, and leave-in shampoo; a suction system is used for toilet liquid and solid waste.
A Future for the ISS
Simple-seeming challenges can be some of the most complex – for example, Space X (a company of Tesla founder Elon Musk) continues to attempt innovation by docking, while attempting to re-capture its rocket launch tank which normally is discarded.
The $150 billion (2010 cost) of the ISS makes it the most expensive single item ever constructed, and its cost to maintain remains significant – as such, with politics playing out on earth between the U.S. and Russia, and with sanctions threatening budget, there has been talk about dismantling the ISS and either shipping the components to earth or leaving some for future trips, to help en route to the moon.
A great deal of potential exists for the ISS, with some functions potentially similar to the Hubble telescope which has allowed images previously unattainable of space. The delicate interplay between finance, science, technology, and imagination continues to encourage growth in (1) learning about human physiology in space; (2) conducting experiments on other animals and plants; (3) considerations of manufacturing such as 3-D printing of even more objects, so that they may be useful for further missions starting from the ISS; (4) actual consideration of the ISS as a “dock” for future missions; (5) consideration of other ISS-type structures, which albeit costly, may serve functions for human travel into space; and (6) actual shuttle flights such as Virgin Galactic, Space X, or others being able to interact with the ISS on routine tourist or other purposes for humans. Today, as many claim, we are able to see the ISS with (most of our) eyes in the night sky, and a position tracker remains updating us on the internet (at www.spotthestation.nasa.gov).