The International Space Station – the pride and joy of five partnering space agencies, including NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada) – is celebrating its twentieth anniversary today.
Here’s how it all began.
On this twentieth day of November in 1998, a Russian Proton rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying in its payload fairing a control module named ‘Zarya’ – the first component of the International Space Station (ISS).
Thus began the piece by piece assembly of the ISS, culminating with the installation of the final planned module in 2011.
Unity, a passive NASA module, became the second cog in the ISS wheel, joining Zarya on Dec 4, 1998, having been launched aboard Space Shuttle flight STS-88.
Ever since the first resident crew arrived on the ISS in Nov 2000, the space station has never been left unmanned, with rotating teams of astronauts from different countries occupying the space station at any given time.
The three-member team of Expedition 1, including American astronaut and former Navy SEAL Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, reached the ISS aboard the Soyuz TM-31 spacecraft.
They would go on to spend the next 136 days of their lives on the space station before returning back to Earth on a Space Shuttle in March 2001.
Twenty years on, what started off as a Russian-built piece of equipment has grown into a six-bedroom orbital lab in the sky, with two bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree observatory module called Cupola to go with it, not to mention the array of equipment and state-of-the art gadgetry.
With its crew of up to six astronauts, this lab in the sky travels at a speed of 17,227 miles per hour (27,724 kilometers per hour), completing one Earth orbit in 93 minutes, which adds up to nearly 16 orbits per day.
ESA astronaut and test pilot Tim Peake, who spent more than six months on the space station between Dec 2015 and June 2016, took to Twitter to wish the ISS a “Happy Birthday,” calling it “an incredible feat of engineering, a marvel of international cooperation and nearly 3000 scientific investigations completed.”
Celebrating 20 years since the launch of the 1st module Zarya…Happy Birthday #ISS! An incredible feat of engineering, a marvel of international cooperation and nearly 3000 scientific investigations completed – thank you to all who continue to make it happen. #ISS20 pic.twitter.com/eyDMvrJDVf
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) November 20, 2018
“The space station to me and the way we have put that program together with our international partners is absolutely the best example of how we can peacefully, successfully do complicated things,” retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott told CNET’s Eric Mack earlier this year.
Scott has held a number of key positions in NASA and has been part of several important missions, including STS-128, Expedition 20, Expedition 21, STS-129, and STS-133 – to highlight a few of her achievements – among many – in a long and distinguished career spanning nearly three decades.
How ISS has benefited Humanity
In addition to serving science as an orbital space laboratory, Earth observatory, and as a platform for decades of scientific studies and research, all of which will potentially serve mankind in the long run, the International Space Station has also made some immediate contributions.
The healthcare sector has benefited tremendously from robotics originally designed and developed for the ISS, especially in the treatment of breast cancer.
For example, telerobotic technology – originally developed for robotics on the ISS – is being put to good use by Dr. Mehran Anvari, chief executive officer at the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation (CSii).
Dr. Anvari has developed a robotic procedure to provide MRI guided breast biopsies to women in remote areas.
According to Dr. Anvari only about 40 percent of women requiring MRI screening actually undergo the procedure.
“Part of the reason why women were not undertaking MRI screening was because of lack of access to the best radiologists locally,” says Dr. Anvari.
“Some women have to drive very long distance, like seven or eight hours, in snowstorm during the winter, sometimes risking their lives just to get their MRI breast biopsies,” says Dr. Nathalie Duchesne of Université Laval (Laval University) in Quebec, Canada.
To address issues like these, Dr. Anvari got in touch with MDA – a Canadian company that develops all robotic systems currently in use on the International Space Station.
MDA developed a system called IGAR (Image Guided Automated Robot), which is a teleoperated robot capable of performing biopsies under MRI guidance.
Basically, it allows radiologists to supervise MRI breast biopsies remotely, thereby eliminating the need for patients to travel to another city or a distant hospital to get access to specialists.
Another ISS technology that has found its way into our lives is a water-testing system, which on Earth comes in the form of a mobile app called mWater for testing water purity.
NASA says: “This handy tool, based in part on International Space Station technology, provides a global resource available for free download as an app or usable via the Web browser version of the app on most smartphones.
“Governments, health workers and the public all can make use of mWater to record and share water test results.
“During the first year of the beta release of mWater, more than 1,000 users downloaded it and mapped several thousand water sources.”
Imagery captured by the space station’s HDEV ( High Definition Earth Viewing) cameras help in natural disaster management.
Some Twitter reactions on the International Space Station’s 20th year in space.
Happy 20th Birthday to the #ISS! I took my first image of it on 16 February 2014 and have regularly enjoyed seeing it pass overhead ever since. Long may it stay up there! #ISS20 😃 pic.twitter.com/OURcVl7vYb
— Steve 'Sirius' Brown – amateur astronomer 🔭📷✨🌙 (@sjb_astro) November 20, 2018
— Ray Kwong (@raykwong) November 20, 2018