The International Space Station (ISS) has been in orbit above our planet since the year 2000, and at its tenth anniversary in 2010 it had been visited by 204 individuals.
Scientists including astronauts and cosmonauts have come from 15 different countries, and it marks man’s longest length of time present in space.
The ISS is not the first space station to be launched and remain in orbit. With the Americans and the Russians vying for first place in many space achievements over the years, it was the Russians who successfully launched the first-ever manned space station, with the Salyut 1 taking its spot in our firmament in April 1971.
Since that time, there have been other stations—both Russian and American—and the ISS is the ninth station to be positioned over the long term in outer space.
To get an idea of man’s technological advancements over time, the initial Salyut 1 weighed 18,425 kg (40,620 pounds). The mass of today’s ISS is almost 23 times heavier at 419,455 kilograms (924,739 pounds).
It stretches 51 metres (167.3 feet) in length. It is four times as big as Mir (1986-2001), the Russian space station that established many records until the ISS broke them, and five times bigger than Skylab (1973-1979).
Being in the International Space Station gives you the same amount of room, roughly, as a five-room house. It offers two bathrooms and a gym for its occupants, and it boasts a 360-degree bay window for a full view of the cosmos.
The ISS contains an integrated truss, which is the framework that holds various components necessary for the space station’s functions.
There are over a dozen truss segments, with a total length of 109 metres (357.5 feet). That means that the official length of the space station is just a few feet shorter than a football field, including the end zones. The truss segments have been launched at various times over the years, with the Z1 truss being the oldest one transported the by Discovery space shuttle in October 2000. The last truss delivered to the space station was a solar array transported, again by Discovery, in March 2009.
There is also an array of solar panels, with a span of 73 metres (240 feet), which is longer than that of a Boeing 777 at 64.6 metres (212 feet). You will find 8 miles of electrical wire and 52 computers on board, operating with approximately 2.3 million lines of software code.
The crew on board the International Space Station changes two or three times per year, with new crew rotating in as those who have been there a while leave to come back home. Generally three astronauts and cosmonauts come and go at a time, and each new set of crew members is called an expedition.
During 2013 we have seen Expedition 35, 36, and 37. You can visit the NASA website to watch videos of the various men and women who have ventured to the ISS.
The space station program’s greatest achievement, throughout all the various space stations that have launched into space and including today’s ISS, is perhaps the ability for these scientists from so many different cultures to work harmoniously without interference from their countries’ various political beliefs.
These men and women have formed a true space partnership, with the majority of them coming from the United States, the former Soviet Union now known as Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. Those countries’ space agencies are known as:
• NASA (National Aeronautic and Space Administration), United States of America
• Roscosmos, the Russian Federation Space Agency
• CSA (Canadian Space Agency), Canada
• ESA (European Space Agency), Europe, including 20 European nations
• JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency), Japan
As each participating country supplies parts and components for the ISS, that country holds responsibility for ensuring that all parts remain operable. This effort also takes massive support from those of us grounded on Planet Earth, with mission control bases in various countries as well as launch facilities, research and technology development agencies, and communications facilities.
From monitoring satellites so that we can have uninterrupted service on our personal electronic devices to preparing equipment for a future Mars mission, we all benefit from the work performed by the people on the International Space Station. They are all people with hobbies and families just like any of us, and it’s important for them to know that we appreciate the work they do.
Why not visit the Space Station’s Facebook page and say hello to the astronauts?