Beyond Earth’s Boundaries: A Quarter Century of the International Space Station’s Extraordinary Journey

The International Space Station Marks 25 Years of Unprecedented Collaboration and Scientific Triumphs.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The 25th anniversary of the launch of the International Space Station (ISS), the most massive artificial entity in the solar system, is commemorated on November 20 with an incredible show of human accomplishment and collaboration. Since its inception on November 20, 1998, the ISS has functioned as a testament to the efficacy of global collaboration, advancing knowledge regarding microgravity and space and fostering novel scientific investigations.

The ISS construction required over thirty voyages and ten years. It results from an unprecedented collaboration between fifteen countries and five space agencies in science and engineering. The International Space Station (IspaceStation), a symbolic representation of collaboration among Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA), the United States (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), and Canada (CSA), has been established as a means to pursue knowledge beyond the confines of Earth collectively.

The space station, which has a permanent crew, weighs 460 tonnes and orbits at 250 kilometres (approximately 400 miles), roughly the length of a football pitch (109 metres or 357 feet) end to end. It is about four times the size of the Russian space station Mir and five times the size of the United States Skylab.

There are numerous residential and working areas on the ISS. It features two restrooms, six sleeping quarters, a gym, and a bay window with a 360-degree view.

Its solar array wingspan is also 109 metres long. To put things in perspective, the largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380, has a wingspan of 79.8 metres.

In addition, around 13 kilometres of electrical wires run through the space station.

The concept of a space station was previously science fiction, existing solely in the mind until it became apparent in the 1940s that such a building might be feasible. As the Space Age began in the 1950s, images of “space planes” and stations dominated popular culture. The first primitive space station was built in 1969 by joining two Russian Soyuz vehicles in space, which was followed by additional stations and technological advancements until building on the ISS began in 1998, supported by the first reusable spacecraft ever developed: the American shuttles.

The initial segment of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched on November 20, 1998. The Zarya Control Module was launched aboard a Russian Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Additionally, Zarya (derived from the word “sunrise”) served as a docking zone for other spacecraft visiting the ISS and as a repository for propellant and batteries.

One month later, on December 4, 1998, the United States released the Unity Node 1 module. The two modules, when combined, formed the foundation of a functioning space laboratory.

The ISS evolved through 42 assembly flights to become what it is today.

The International Space Station maintains its orbit by rapidly revolving around the Earth to counterbalance free fall effects.

It orbits Earth many times daily, every 90 minutes, at a speed of 8 kilometres per second (5 miles). Every 24 hours, it travels over our heads 16 times, passing through 16 sunrises and sunsets.

Activities of Astronauts aboard the International Space Station

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) undertake routine spacewalks to perform maintenance and install new parts, such as robotic arms, while not performing scientific experiments (those that aren’t possible on Earth). Astronauts have occasionally had to check through or seal holes left by space debris.

Additionally, the astronauts follow a rigorous health regimen. Microgravity in space causes bone and muscle mass loss, which they must counteract. This entails putting in at least two hours a day of exercise on specifically made equipment, such as treadmills.

As scientists show more interest in studying human habitation in space, particularly on the moon or Mars, our understanding of the effects of space on the human body has also grown. This raises the question of what would happen if individuals spent long periods in microgravity. Would our bodies become incapable of adapting to Earth’s environment, or would they retain their strength?

What scientific advancements have resulted from the International Space Station?

Throughout the ISS, astronauts have carried out hundreds of scientific experiments. On occasion, they conduct self-experiments to assess their nutritional status, overall health, or the impact of solar radiation. Additionally, they conduct experiments for scientists on Earth on occasion. They have contributed to a multitude of scientific advancements.

Everything from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to cancer, asthma, and cardiovascular disease has been studied in space. Because cells behave more like they do within the human body in microgravity, scientists believe that certain medical experiments are best conducted in space. However, simulating such conditions on Earth is challenging.

Breakthroughs have benefited the development of pharmaceuticals, water purification systems, techniques to prevent muscle and bone atrophy, and food production innovations.

The commencement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 significantly disrupted preparations for the ISS’s future operations.

Organisations and partner countries withdrew from international partnerships with Russia, and Russia announced that it was vacating the ISS to build its space station. 

But it’s not just the conflict; both established and emerging spacefaring nations seek to establish their identities in space. They comprise the United Arab Emirates, Japan, China, and India. 

The United States and Europe have affirmed their continued dedication to the International Space Station until 2030. However, objectives also exist for a world beyond the International Space Station: NASA is nearly wholly devoted to its Artemis programme and intends to populate the moon. Additionally, ESA is developing a new space station known as Starlab.

The phrase “watch this space” has never really meant what it does.


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