"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean... Recently, we've managed to wade a little way out, and the water seems inviting." - Carl Sagan
Nov. 20, 1998, was a day to mark in history. The Russian Space Agency, now known as Roscosmos, launched a Proton rocket that lifted the pressurized module called Zarya, or “sunrise,” into orbit. This launch would truly be the dawn of the largest international cooperation effort in space to ever come to light.
Zarya was the first piece of the International Space Station. Also known as the Functional Cargo Block (FGB), it would provide a nucleus of orientation control, communications and electrical power while the station waited for its other elements, including the Zvezda service module and Unity.
Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 1998, NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour launched Unity, the first U.S. piece of the complex, during the STS-88 mission. The two space modules built on opposite sides of the planet were about to be joined together in space, making the space station truly international.STS-88 carries the distinction of being the first space station assembly mission, and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana was its commander.
Since that first meeting of Zarya and Unity, the space station grew piece by piece with additions from each of the international partners built across three continents and leading to the largest and most complex spacecraft ever constructed.
The space station, now four times larger than Mir and five times larger than Skylab, represents a collaboration between NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, representing 15 countries in all.The first crew to inhabit the space station launched on a Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 31, 2000, as Expedition 1 and consisted of one NASA astronaut, Commander Bill Shepherd, and two Russian cosmonauts, Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko. Their arrival on board the station Nov. 2 marked the start of a permanent human presence in space.The crew of Expedition 1 set the framework for international cooperation and attitude in space, displaying mutual respect and teamwork. Since the Expedition 1 crew’s example aboard the space station, there have been 37 expeditions following the same solidarity in space, working toward common goals. This makes the International Space Station home to the longest continuous human presence in space of all time.
In support of station assembly and maintenance, station and shuttle crews have conducted 174 spacewalks totaling almost 1,100 hours – the equivalent to nearly 46 days of spacewalks to build and maintain the complex. The station, with a mass of almost a million pounds and the size of a football field, is second only to the moon as the brightest object in the night sky.
Over the years, a great deal of research has been done on the space laboratory, which has already yielded tremendous results toward various fields. The science of the space station has provided benefits to humankind in areas such as human health, Earth observation and education. Many more results and benefits for both space exploration and life on Earth are expected in the coming years.More than 69 countries have put research on the orbiting laboratory that advances space exploration and provides a multitude of benefits to humans on Earth. A few examples of the benefits provided by research performed on the space station are highlighted in NASA’s new feature “Benefits for Humanity.” These highlights include neurosurgical medical technology in Canada; water purification technology in rural Mexico; agricultural monitoring in the northern Great Plains of the United States; student amateur radio interaction with the space station in the U.S. midwest; and, remote telemedicine in rural Brazil.