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International Space Station

Continuing on from the United States' Skylab and Russia's Mir, the International Space Station (ISS) represents a permanent human presence in space. The space station is located in orbit around the Earth at an altitude of approximately 386 km, a type of orbit usually termed low Earth orbit. (The actual height varies over time by several kilometres due to atmospheric drag and reboosts.) It orbits Earth at a period of about 92 minutes; on December 1, 2003 it had completed over 28,700 orbits since launch.

It is serviced primarily by the Space Shuttle, and Soyuz and Progress spacecraft units. It is still being built, but is home to some experimentation already. At present, the station has a capacity for a crew of three, who have come mostly from Russia and the United States, but occasionally from some of the other partners in the project.

International Space Station photographed from the Space Shuttle Atlantis, October 16, 2002

The station consists of several modules:

Other major subsystems include As configured as of 2003, the station weighed 187,016 kg and 425 cubic meters of living space. Its extreme dimensions were 73 meters wide, 52 meters long, and 27.5 meters high. Operations had included 16 American Space Shuttle flights and 22 Russian flights. Of the Russian flights, 8 were manned and 14 were unmanned flights. Construction had required 51 spacewalks, of which 25 were shuttle-based and 26 ISS-based. Total spacewalk time at the station has been 318 hours, 37 minutes.

On December 1, 1987, NASA announced the names of four companies who were awarded contracts to help build the Space Station: Boeing Aerospace, General Electric's Astro-Space Division, McDonnell Douglas, and the Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell.

The first section was put in orbit in 1998. Two further pieces were added before the first crew was sent. The first crew arrived on November 2, 2000 and consisted of US astronaut Bill Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. They decided to call the space station "Alpha" but the use of that name was restricted to their mission.

The ISS has had a troubled history. Initially planned as a NASA "Space Station Freedom" and promoted by President Reagan, it was found to be too expensive. After the end of the Cold War, it was taken up again as a joint project of NASA and Russia's Rosaviakosmos. Since then, it has been far more expensive than originally anticipated by NASA, and is behind schedule. As of 2003 it is unable to yet accommodate the expected crew of seven, thus severely limiting the amount of science that can be performed on it and angering European partners in the project.

There are many critics of NASA who view the project as a waste of time, inhibiting progress on more useful projects: for instance, the estimated $100 billion USD lifetime cost could pay for dozens of unmanned scientific missions. There are many critics of space exploration in general, who argue that the $100 billion USD would be better spent helping the poor or improving the environment.

Advocates of space exploration hold that such criticisms are at the very least short-sighted, and perhaps deceptive. Advocates of manned space research and exploration claim that these efforts have indeed produced billions of dollars of tangible benefits to people on Earth. In some estimates, it has been held that the indirect economic benefit, made from commercialization of manned space exploration developed technologies, has returned more than seven times the initial investment to the economy (some conservative estimates put the amount at three times the initial investment). Whether the ISS, as distinct from the wider space program, will be a major contributor in this sense is, however, a subject of strong debate.

After the accident of the Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003, and the subsequent suspension of the US Space Shuttle program, the future of the ISS is uncertain. The construction is halted as that is done by the Space Shuttle, and the crew exchange is done using the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. With Soyuz TMA-2 a two-astronaut caretaker crew is launched, instead of the previous crews of three.

The ISS has seen the first space tourist, Dennis Tito, who reported spent 20 million USD to fly aboard a Russian supply mission and the first space wedding when Yuri Malenchenko on the station married Ekaterina Dmitriev who was in Texas.

The International Space Station. Photo taken December 2001 from the Space Shuttle Endeavour


Visitors to the space station:

Brian Duffy, Leroy Chiao, Bill McArthur, Koichi Wakata, Jeff Wisoff, Terry Wilcutt, Scott Altman, Richard Mastracchio, Boris Morukov, James Halsell, Mary Ellen Weber, Jeff Williams, Rick D. Husband, Tamara E. Jernigan, Julie Payette, Valery Ivanovich Tokarev, James Newman, Nancy Currie, Robert Cabana, Brent Jett, Michael Bloomfield, Joseph Tanner, Marc Garneau, Carlos Noriega, Kenneth Cockrell, Mark Polansky, Robert Curbeam, Thomas Jones, Marsha Ivin, James Wetherbee, James Kelly, Andrew Thomas, Paul Richards, Kent V. Rominger, Jeffrey Ashby, Chris Hadfield, John L. Phillips, Scott Parazynski, Umberto Guidoni, Yuri Lonchakov, Talgat A. Musabaev, Yuri M. Baturin, Dennis Tito (tourist), Steven W. Lindsey, Charles O. Hobaugh, Michael L. Gernhard, Janet L. Kavandi, James F. Reilly, Scott J. Horowitz, Frederick W. Sturckow, Patrick G. Forrester, Daniel T. Barry, Viktor Afanasiev, Claudie Haignere, Konstantin Kozeev, Dominic Gorie, Mark E. Kelly, Linda M. Godwin, Daniel M. Tani, Roberto Vittori, Mark Shuttleworth (tourist), Sergei Zalyotin, Frank De Winne, Paul Lockhart, John Herrington, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Pam Melroy, Sandy Magnus, Piers Sellers, David Wolf, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Franklin Chang-Díaz, Philippe Perrin, Paul Lockhart, Stephen N. Frick, Ellen Ochoa, Jerry Ross, Rex Walheim, Steve Smith, Lee Morin, Pedro Duque

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