International Space Station celebrates 10th birthday
International Space Station, an experimental lab for the study of influences of space on life and a huge international cooperation effort, is turning 10 today. Aside from 19 sophisticated labs, the station harbours sleep stations, kitchens, washrooms and even exercise rooms for the 167 individuals from 14 different countries who have visited the station through the years. Right now, the crew of space shuttle Endeavour that has docked to the station on Sunday, November 16th, is on board of the station, and they have already sent their warm greetings to Earth and wished ISS many more productive years. Endeavour has brought a technical addition to ISS that will allow to accommodate three more permanent astronauts on board at any given time.
But is the new knowledge generated on board of ISS really worth the huge investment? The station is not even complete yet, and will require much more money to be fully in operation by 2010. To date, it is estimated that $100 billion was spent on ISS by participating countries. It is believed the experiments currently run on the station are a must if we are ever to realize our dreams of flying to Mars and revisiting Moon. But the critics say science done aboard ISS is “marginal” in its importance. In addition, Russia, one of the key project participants and suppliers, has faced criticism in recent years for turning ISS into a travel destination for numerous space tourists, earning quite a bit of money in the process.
Supporters of the station claim that ISS is not there just for scientific purposes. It is a huge, if not the biggest, peaceful international collaboration project, and the international relations value of it must also be taken into consideration when discussing the importance of ISS.
NASA couldn't have staged it any better: 10 people in orbit for Thursday's 10th anniversary of the world's most elaborate and expensive housing project, the international space station.
On Nov. 20, 1998, the first part of the space station was launched by the Russians from Kazakhstan. NASA followed up two weeks later with piece No. 2 carried up by a space shuttle. Astronauts and cosmonauts moved in two years later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The space station has grown into a behemoth outpost 220 miles up, home to three people at any given time — soon to be six.
Three-quarters complete, the total mass is 627,000 pounds. NASA says it's about the size of a five-bedroom house.
Some other fascinating factoids: The space station has traveled 1.3 billion miles, orbited Earth more than 57,300 times, hosted 167 people from 15 countries, and served up more than 19,000 meals.
The price tag, from start to finish, is often quoted at $100 billion. That includes money spent not only by the United States and Russia, but also Canada, Japan and the 18-nation European Space Agency. NASA disputes that amount and estimates its share at $44 billion, including shuttle launch costs.
"The ISS is the largest ever experiment in international technological cooperation," said John Logsdon, a historian at the National Air and Space Museum in the US capital.
"I think it's a necessary stepping stone to long-term human activities in new areas of operations," Logsdon told AFP. The station is "off the planet and it's the first step outward -- not an end in itself, but a step along the way."
"With the International Space Station, we have learned so many things, and we're going to take that knowledge and apply it to flying to the moon and Mars," said Expedition 18 Commander Mike Fincke, now aboard the station. "Everything we're learning so close to home, only 240 miles away from the planet, we can apply to the moon 240,000 miles away."