International Space Station
The term 'space station' was coined in the 1920s. In the 1950s, Werner von Braun described his vision of such a structure in Collierís magazine. In 1971, the Sovietís Salyut 1 became the first space station, followed by Skylab and Mir. The first parts of the ISS were launched in 1998, and the first Expedition crew began living on the ISS in 2000.
On November 2, 2010, the ISS marked its 10th anniversary of continuous human occupation. The ISS team includes the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and the 11 ESA nations, and the space station has been visited by 202 individuals. Four times bigger than Mir, the ISS is about the size of a football field. The ISS weighs 390,908 kg, or 861,8704 pounds and is larger than a five-bedroom house. Construction on the ISS was essentially completed in 2011.. The ISS orbits at 402 kilometers above sea level with a 51.6ļ inclination, allowing easy crew and supply accessibility and coverage of 85% of Earth. People on Earth can see the ISS pass overhead as a bright point of light, looking similar to an airplane.
Scientists on the ISS have been examining the effects of microgravity on health over long periods of time and learning how astronauts can prepare for a Mars mission in the near future.
From 1995 until 1998, astronauts and cosmonauts alike remained aboard Mir for long periods of time and docked it with the Space Shuttle nine times, gaining valuable knowledge in technology, international space operations, and scientific research. Beginning March 1996, seven astronauts continually occupied Mir for 28 months. By comparison, the Shuttle achieve one year in orbit after 60 flights.
The International Space Station establishes an unprecedented state-of-the-art laboratory complex in orbit, more than four times the size of Mir and with almost 60 times its electrical power. Research is being conducted in the areas of biology and biotechnology, earth and space science, human research, physical sciences, technology, and other educational activities. The station also serves as an indispensable step in preparation for future human space exploration.
Experiments on ISS module exteriors study the space environment and how long-term exposure to space vacuum and debris affects materials. This research will provide future spacecraft designers and scientists with a better understanding of the nature of space and enhancement of spacecraft design. Some experiments study the basic forces of nature (fundamental physics) by taking advantage of weightlessness to analyze weak forces difficult to examine when subject to Earth's gravity, which may help explain the development of our universe; investigations using lasers to cool atoms to near absolute zero may help us understand gravity itself.
Orbital observations of Earth study large-scale, long-term changes in the environment and increase understanding of the forests, oceans and mountains, meteoric impacts, hurricanes and typhoons, and volcanic effects. Observable human-induced changes to the Earth include the effects of air pollution and smog over cities. Deforestation and water pollution are visible from space and are captured in images providing global perspectives unavailable at ground level.
Orbital assembly of the ISS has ushered in a new hands-on work-in-space era involving more spacewalks than ever before and newer robotic generations. 161 spacewalks equalling more than 1,015 hours have occurred to assemble the ISS. There have been well over 100 launches to the Space Station by various countries. The ISS is expected to last at least another decade.
Author: Astronomy Today Staff