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History of the International Space Station - UrtheCast Blog

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History of the International Space Station

The International Space Station or (ISS) is mankind’s first permanent footprint on the road towards the final-frontier. Years of cooperation between the members of the international space community have led to the completion of one of the most ambitious endeavors undertaken by modern man. Spanning the length of a football field and hurtling through space at a mind-boggling 17,500 miles per hour or 32,410 kilometers per hour, the ISS project is the first step in establishing a permanent human presence in outer-space, that will serve as a starting point for all future space exploration.

 On January 29, 1998, officials from 16 countries signed the International Space Station Agreements to develop and design a cooperative, permanently inhabited laboratory in space. Each partner would contribute hardware that would be ferried to the station in a concerted effort by the nation’s respective space agencies as well as development and operational resources. According to the European Space Agency (one of the five space agency partners), total costs for the station will top $128 billion dollars spread amongst the contributing nations.


The launch of the Zarya and Unity modules in November and December of 1998 marked the commencement of the International Space Station’s flight. While the first pieces of the ISS were in orbit, the crew would not begin inhabiting the station until 2000 and the majority of the laboratory and living quarters would not be assembled until a decade later in November of 2010.             

The task of assembling the numerous modules, propulsion devices, solar arrays and living compartments would fall to the Canadarm 2, a 56-foot robotic arm developed by the Canadian Space Agency that functions without a permanent anchor point. The two ends of the arm (called Latching End Effectors) are fully functional which allow the device to move or “walk” around the exterior of the station to assemble pieces and make repairs as needed. 


The overreaching mission of the International Space Station is to use the unique micro-gravity environment to improve life on earth through various experiments across all fields of science and study how the human body responds to the harsh conditions of long-term life in space.

The first experiments conducted in the gigantic, floating laboratory began in 2001 although the laboratory would not be completed until 2008. The unique research environment immediately produced startling results creating a Plasma Crystal from Plasma gas and proving that ultrasounds used for medical purposes were accurate in space. The physical, behavorial and chemical aspects of each astronaut are carefully recorded and monitored by a fleet of doctors back on earth. Which provides some of the most telling data for scientists about how the muscles, tissue, organs and bones handle the low levels of gravity over an extended period of time. Information that is vital in preparation for longer missions to Mars and other planets as well as making space-travel possible for commercial purposes. 

While the International Space Station is a huge accomplishment in terms of technical breakthroughs and international collaboration, its true impact is yet to be written. For every far-off world we visit in the future, the International Space Station will be remembered as the first stepping stone to exploration and better understanding of our place in the universe.

Jason Taetsch is a freelance content writer with experience in tech writing, blogs, travel writing, pop culture and a range of promotional materials. Jason blogs via Contently.com.

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