What are we referring to when we speak of the ISS? The largest structure built by human beings and placed into orbit, a joint effort of 16 countries around the world with the purpose of engaging in experiments under microgravity.
Its construction began in 1998, and then a Russian rocket known as Proton placed into orbit the first lunar module named Zarya designed to provide the ISS the initial power and propulsion. Later they added the Unity connecting module, also known as Node 1. Other modules later came up until the year 2000 when the first crew was dropped off at the ISS.
The ISS continues to be in permanent evolution and equipment updating and has been permanently occupied since November of 2002. Since then it has hosted 230 visitors from around 18 countries of the world.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as well as other space agencies such as the European Space Agency (ESA), Roscosmos (Russian Space Agency), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), all participated in building the ISS with the purpose of assessing and researching topics related to human health under microgravity.
This aspect is crucial as it is one of the most relevant conditions when it comes to sending a live crew to other planets of our solar system. Above all due to the long journeys which have a direct bearing over the circulatory system, muscles, bones, and eyes. Several research projects are directed towards identifying the impact and if it possible or not to revert these effects.
Other interesting experiments have taken place at the ISS such as researching the growth of plants under long periods of microgravity exposure and characterizing the physical and chemical properties of materials such as copper alloys, among many other experiments.
The ISS does not only have an impact over the scientific and technological scope but also over the geospatial and political realms. According to the initial agreement between NASA and Roscosmos, the ISS was destined to be a laboratory and an observatory. However, according to a proposal of the space policy of the United States, in 2010 they added another goal which was to obtain commercial, diplomatic and educational information.
Many of the research projects carried out at the ISS have a direct relationship with quality of life improvement of the general population. Furthermore, the ISS, being constantly orbiting Earth, has a privileged position to monitor the changes related to climate and global warming.
Following are some interesting data of the results of several research projects carried out at the ISS: It hosted American and Russian Astronauts Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko respectively for 340 days, who also participated in the famous twin experiment, as his Russian twin stayed on Earth and scientists studied the effects of microgravity predicted by Albert Einstein a few years back. The space station also broke the record for the longest spacewalk with 8 hours and 13 minutes.
The ISS is a surprising engineering feat as its construction was made gradually and in pieces, thanks to spacewalks and robots that helped during the process.
Currently, they are assessing the possibility of extending the operations of the ISS up to at least 2024, with the possibility of also extending it to 2028. After this date, the fate of the ISS will be uncertain. Maybe they will let it descend its orbit and catch fire on the Earth’s atmosphere or maybe it may be used for future space stations.
Last Saturday the ISS was visible for 4 minutes, disappearing towards the southeast at a very fast speed. Although its passing through Colombian skies was short-lived its legacy will be eternal.
You can follow the journey of the International Space Station in this link.
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