Tour the International Space Station! Inside ISS

The International Space Station: A Crucial Hub of Space Research. Discover the history, function, and experiments conducted aboard.

Video of the day January 3rd 2020

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The International Space Station is one of the most important things mankind has ever built, but what exactly is it, and how did it get there?

Join me as we explore the history of the ISS!

What Is The International Space Station?

If you wish to know a very literal definition of the International Space Station, that would be: “a space station that acts as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields. The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars.” Whether you understand it or not, the ISS is one of the most important things in the world of space research and technology. To that end, it wasn’t one nation that helped make this thing real, rather, it was a bunch of them coming together to make it happen. In fact, the people who helped build, launch, and run the ISS include NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). So that’s five nations coming together to further their knowledge of space. That international flavor also goes to the crew of the ISS, as they’re often times a mix of people from the various countries (and their allies) who helped make and run the station. Now you might be thinking, “Is such a station really necessary?” In simple terms, yes, yes it is. Because humanity is aiming to embrace the stars, and settle on other planets, which means we need to be ready for anything space throws at us…which is hard to prepare for when you’re on Earth and thus can’t really get to the nitty-gritty of what space can do to you. So thus, the various nations came together to make this space station happen so that they could prepare for what was coming.

History and Function Of The Station

The International Space Station, as a concept, originated in the 1990s, and once an agreement was reached among the five previously mentioned nations, the project commenced. The ISS stands as a genuine testament to international collaboration, as it is constructed utilizing components contributed by all five countries involved.

Upon preparation, the individual pieces were launched into space and methodically assembled by robotic means to ensure the utmost safety and security. This assembly process occurred in 1998, progressively bringing the International Space Station into existence. It is crucial to note that the station is divided into two distinct sections: one exclusively managed by the Russians and the other overseen by the United States, in addition to the other participating nations and their respective allies.

Throughout its existence, the ISS has hosted a total of 239 individuals from 19 countries, who have conducted a wide array of experiments, procedures, and advancements onboard the station. The inaugural crew was deployed to the station in 2000.

The station’s capacity to contribute to space experiments is attributed to its speed and orbital position. Positioned approximately 220 miles above the Earth’s surface in what is referred to as “low orbit,” the ISS experiences the influence of gravity, allowing it to orbit the planet. However, individuals within the station encounter a state of “freefall,” commonly known as microgravity, resulting in a weightless environment.

The velocity at which the station traverses space is truly impressive. It maintains an average speed of around 17,227 miles per hour, roughly equivalent to 5 miles per second. Consequently, within approximately 90 minutes, the ISS completes a full orbit around the Earth. Such high velocity is indispensable for the station to accomplish its specific objectives and fulfill assignments for the crew.

What Gets Tested Up On the ISS?

We will delve into the specific experiments conducted on the International Space Station shortly. However, on a grander scale, the ISS serves as a perfect testing ground for all kinds of items. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the entire space station is essentially a laboratory.

For instance, since the ISS is a space station utilized by five space agencies to conduct space-related tests, one of the main activities is sending up new space parts for shuttles, probes, satellites, and other equipment. The crew then tests these components for potential faults, glitches, and how they perform under conditions of microgravity, radiation, and other factors. If these parts can withstand the challenges of the ISS, they are more likely to function successfully in space during missions to planets, moons, and beyond.

Additionally, the astronauts themselves are subject to testing. Gravity not only impacts inanimate objects sent into space but also affects human beings. Consequently, the crew members aboard the ISS become their own kind of guinea pigs. This became particularly important when it was discovered, almost too late, that microgravity has negative effects on the human body when not properly managed. Consequently, the ISS now features a fully equipped gym where astronauts can exercise to maintain their physical well-being for their eventual return to Earth.

These examples merely scratch the surface of the testing and experimentation conducted on the International Space Station. Given the multitude of tasks to be accomplished and the limited time each group of astronauts has for experiments, virtually anything and everything can be tested onboard.

Wait, Who Pays For This Again?

Yeah, that’s a tricky question for the most part, because you’d think that with 5 nations being a part of this project that they’d be able to split the bill and all that and live happily ever after, right?

Yeah…not so much.

Russia and the United States actually pay for most of it because they have half of the station dedicated to themselves for the most part, meaning one side for Russia and the other for the US and their allies.

Russia has even endorsed the ISS to continue running for at least the next 5 years. Though they have also noted that they’re tempted to break off their own section of the station and make their own fully-Russian station in its place. Which they have the rights to do via the treaties and negotiations, but as of yet haven’t fully committed to it yet.

The other nations also do their part, though, and they help front the bill when key repairs, expansions, and more are put into it. Would you like to know how much it cost to make? $150 BILLION dollars.

AND, the yearly maintenance of the station is about $3-4 billion dollars. So as you can see, this isn’t small or cheap, but you can bet that it produces results that make people like NASA and the other nations happy because if they didn’t, they’d just drop it out of the sky. And yeah, they actually can do that and have done that with similar stations in the past.

Experiments Part 1

You might be curious as to what kinds of experiments astronauts get up to in space shuttles and the International Space Station (we talked about in this post). The simple answer is: a lot. Because there’s still a lot that we don’t know about space, and more importantly, how certain objects interact with space as a whole. For example, have you ever wondered how things like bacteria would react to being in microgravity? No, I bet you haven’t, but NASA had a curiosity about it. So they decided to send some samples up in two different space missions, and what they found was actually quite frightening. Mainly, they found that things like Salmonella actually get more intense in space. And not just by a little, but 3-7 times MORE intense than they are on Earth. Which means you REALLY don’t want to get Salmonella or other things in space, just saying. So how does that work? It has to do with conditions.

On a space shuttle or the ISS, with no gravity and certain “space lights” filling the place, the bacteria thinks it’s inside a human gut (where it reacts with things and makes people sick). Thankfully, because of this research, a special vaccine was created to counter the hyper-virulent bacteria. As well as finding a special protein within it that actually regulates how it acts in certain conditions. Pretty cool, huh? And that’s why you need to ask ALL the questions when it comes to doing tests in space. What’s more, if microgravity can do this to one kind of bacteria, what else could it do to other bacteria? The answers will be found…eventually.

Experiments Part 2 Whether on Earth or in space, having a fire

breakout in an enclosed area is never a good thing. In fact, it was a flash fire that killed the astronauts of the first Apollo Space Mission. In space though, you have to wonder not only how fire will interact with the environment, but also, how to put it out. Under very controlled circumstances on the International Space Station, these experiments were carried out with interesting results. First off, fires in space don’t burn the same way as on Earth. Without gravity compressing the oxygen all around them, they burn small, and at lower temperatures than expected. They can also burn with less Oxygen present. Due to this, the flames need to be doused with higher concentrations of retardants and extinguishers. However, there are some space fires that’ll apparently continue to burn despite being extinguished.

Which is bad, obviously. You want more experiments? How about plants? We often take for granted the simple actions and things that happen on Earth that may not work exactly how you think in space, which is why these experiments happen. One such question was whether plants could actually grow in space. So, in 2012 on the International Space Station, a zucchini plant was grown, and the astronaut who took care of it, Don Pettit, actually wrote blog posts (from the perspective of the plant) to talk about its growth. This was not only important because of the effects of gravity on plants, but how potential space radiation would affect plants too. The obvious implications of this is that if plants can be grown in space or on other planets that aren’t like Earth, they could help provide both Oxygen and food for the crews and colonists on long-term missions. So as you can see, these experiments help shape our knowledge of what life can be like in space, and even when experiments fail or don’t produce the results you think, it still broadens what we can do and learn from space itself.

The Fall Of The International Space Station

At present, the International Space Station is scheduled to remain working until 2030 barring something happening to it in space or the budget being pulled (which is unlikely though not impossible given the state of the world and space at this time). But that raises a rather large and curious question. Mainly, what happens to the ISS when its mission is done? Does it just remain is space? Will it be the latest piece of space junk to just roam about the atmosphere? Actually…no. Because while it’s true that NASA and the other space agencies have done a rather terrible job of keeping our atmosphere clean, they’re not going to let the ISS hover there. Rather, they’re going to let it crash back down to Earth! …ok, only in a small way. You see, stations have dropped out of the sky before, but when they do, they drop into the ocean.

Specifically, they drop to a point known as Point Nemo. This is a spot in the ocean where life is very limited, and it’s over 1600 miles away from any other point of land. So, when the time comes for the ISS to fall, that’s where they’re going to aim it. Now the whole station won’t fall into this one spot. The atmosphere will rip it to shreds, burning it up, melting it down, and overall making it a lot smaller, which means it’ll go into the ocean without much issue, and without harming a lot of life. Short of blowing it up (which has its own problems and such), it’s the best option available.

What Space Station Will Be Next?

So if the International Space Station “dies” in 2030, what will be the next space station to go up? That is currently classified, but some countries like the Russians already have plans in mind as we’ve noted. But no matter what, you can bet that a newer station will be going up eventually. And by the time 2030 comes around, we could have all sorts of advances in technology that allow us to make a space station that is even more advanced than the ISS. For example, by that time we might have artificial gravity worked out. That way the astronauts don’t have to just float in space, they can walk on it.

Furthermore, it could be that by that time, the idea of having humanity living in space stations like the ISS is more probable. ┬áThe ideas of “space elevators” and “commercial space travel” are floating around right now, so who knows where it’ll be in a decade or so? In the end, the ISS is going to end its mission eventually, but what comes after that might just be bigger and better. Thanks for watching everyone! What did you think of this in-depth look at the International Space Station? Would you like to be one of the people that gets to live in it?

 

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