The International Space Station at 20 offers hope and a template for future cooperation

8 mins read

Wendy Whitman Cobb, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

On Nov. 2, 2020, the International Space Station celebrated its twentieth anniversary of steady human occupation. With astronauts and cosmonauts from around the globe working collectively, the ISS has demonstrated humankind’s means to not solely reside and work in house however cooperate with each other. This outstanding achievement is important as nations and firms around the globe look to broaden house exploration past Earth orbit.

The path to this anniversary was not simple; like most issues performed in house, the associated fee and the issue have been excessive. Supported by the Reagan administration as a part of the Cold War competitors with the Soviet Union, the ISS began its life in the 1980s. Following the Challenger catastrophe in 1986, planning fell by the wayside as prices elevated. Facing delays and value overruns, the house station – then often known as Freedom – was nearly canceled by the House of Representatives within the early Nineteen Nineties. While already bringing worldwide companions aboard to decrease prices, the Clinton administration invited Russia to take part, leveraging the station as a device of overseas coverage between former adversaries.

What started as competitors has was fruitful cooperation not simply between Russia and the United States however Canada, Japan, Italy, the European Space Agency and over 100 other countries. As a house coverage knowledgeable, I argue that the achievements of the ISS thus far are certainly important, however additionally they level the best way forward for cooperation and commercialization in house.

The official portrait of the Expedition 1 crew (from left to proper, Sergei Ok. Krikalev, William M. Shepherd and Yuri Pavlovich), the primary people to reside aboard the International Space Station. Arriving on station on Nov. 2, 2000, they have been the primary of 64 crews to reside and work aboard the orbital laboratory. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Accomplishments and significance

By the numbers, the International Space Station is certainly spectacular. At 357 toes in size, it is only one yard shy of an American soccer subject. More than 241 people from 19 nations have visited, and at least 3,000 analysis tasks have taken place on the ISS. The ISS is the third brightest object within the evening sky and can usually be noticed worldwide. Even Lego has immortalized the station with its personal constructing set.

The ISS has confirmed that people can reside and work in house. These experiences are key as nations look to long run exploration. The ISS has led to advances in understanding how the human physique reacts to sustained microgravity and elevated publicity to radiation. Other experiments have allowed researchers to check supplies and chemical substances in a microgravity surroundings. Astronauts have additionally discovered tips on how to develop meals on the station, resulting in insights on how plants grow on Earth.

These accomplishments haven’t come with out criticism. It value greater than US$100 billion to assemble; some have questioned the quantity and worth of the science that has been carried out. More just lately, limits on the the variety of crew residing on the station have reduced the amount of time available for scientific experiments.

However, maybe some of the important legacies of the ISS is the long-term cooperation that has enabled it. While the U.S. and Russia are the nations most intently recognized with this system, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency additionally participate. While not always easy, sustained cooperation in a place the place operations are tough and expensive is spectacular.

For the U.S. and Russia particularly, this achievement is exclusive. While there was some cooperation between the two through the Cold War, the ISS is the primary main house program by which the 2 have labored collectively. Even as relations between Russia and the U.S. have deteriorated over the previous a number of years, the partnership on the ISS has continued. While scientific and house cooperation doesn’t remedy all terrestrial points, it can strengthen other diplomatic relationships.

The future of the ISS

Though turning 20 might not look like a milestone, for a sophisticated piece of equipment working within the harmful surroundings of house, the ISS is approaching outdated age. In latest years, it has suffered a number of issues, most just lately an air leak in the Russian module, Zvezda. However, latest assessments support continued operation of the ISS for at least one other 10 years.

The world’s first feminine house vacationer, Anousheh Ansari, on Sept. 29, 2006 after she and the 2 crew members of the thirteenth International Space Station mission landed within the steppes of Kazakhstan. AFP via Getty Images

In that point, the ISS will probably see a rise in business exercise. Recently, cosmetics firm Estee Lauder launched certainly one of its merchandise to the station to be featured in a business filmed there. SpaceX is looking to make the ISS a vacationer vacation spot following NASA’s 2019 decision making it simpler for house vacationers to go to. Another house firm, Axiom, recently received a contract to construct a business module to be added to the ISS in 2024. The module would give additional living and working space to astronauts aboard the station in addition to function the start line for a future business house station.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Thinking past Earth orbit, worldwide cooperation within the ISS supplies a strong instance for future cooperation in house. As NASA seeks to return to the Moon, worldwide cooperation shall be a manner of lowering prices, normalizing habits in house and growing nationwide status. NASA has made efforts in these areas via the Artemis Accords, an settlement outlining norms and behaviors for lunar exploration. Additionally, NASA is partnering with the European Space Agency and others on its plans for the Gateway, a mini-space station in lunar orbit. The ISS expertise has been elementary to all of those developments because it continues to launch the subsequent technology of house endeavors.

Wendy Whitman Cobb, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

This article is republished from The Conversation beneath a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.