Construction of the International Space Station (ISS) began in 1998, as a result of a joint initiative taken by different space agencies of the world, including the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The space station has had continuous human presence since the 2nd of November, 2000.
The 'Integrated Truss Structure' forms the framework of the ISS. Accessories such as solar panels, radiators, and unpressurized logistics carriers, are mounted on this framework. This space station has 10 pressurized modules. These modules were gradually integrated with the space station, and have been manufactured by different nations. USA has contributed to the space station by providing the four modules, Quest, Destiny, Harmony, and Unity. Zvezda, Pirs, and Zarya are the Russian modules, while Japan provided the Kibo's Experiment Logistics Module and the Kibo's Pressurized Module. The only module manufactured by the European Space Agency is Columbus. Further, four modules are to be installed in the future.
The Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, also known as MPLM, plays an important role in the working of the International Space Station; it is attached to the space station when space shuttle missions are sent from the Earth. It is also used for logistics.
Operations and Missions
The activities and operations carried out at the station are controlled from the 'Mission Control Center' (MCC). The MCC of NASA is located at Houston in Texas, while Russia's MCC is situated at Korolyov, Moscow.
Spaceships visit the space station to serve various purposes. The 'Automatic Transfer Vehicle' of the European Space Agency and Russia's 'Roskosmos Progress Spacecraft', carry out tasks related to logistics. Another spacecraft from Russia, the 'Soyuz', is engaged in crew rotation, i.e., transportation of the crew to and from the space station. The Space Shuttle program of USA is more or less involved in the same tasks as described above. Providing logistics, crew rotation, and assembly, are some of its routine operations.
Till date, six space tourists have visited the International Space Station. The Soyuz spacecraft was used for these tours. There are no future plans for space tours, as the space station will host 6 crew members on a permanent basis.
The space shuttle Columbia, sent by USA, exploded in mid-air while it was entering the Earth's orbit. The 'Columbia Disaster' was a huge setback for NASA, and it affected the space program for a considerable period. The tragic incident took place on 1st February, 2003, resulting in the loss of all its seven crew members. In the meantime, the Russian spacecraft, Soyuz carried out the transportation of crew members during the years 2003 through 2006.
A computer malfunction on 14th June, 2007, created a problematic situation at the space station. It disabled the carbon dioxide scrubber, oxygen generation, and other systems. The situation was however, brought under control within a few hours after the computers were restarted.
The establishment of the ISS symbolizes the integrated efforts on part of the developed nations, to grow in the arena of space technology by setting aside mutual differences. The history of this space station dates back to the 1980s. Russia had set up two space stations, Salyut and Mir, in the '80s. USA wanted their own space station Freedom; however, plans to build the same didn't work out. Russia's plans to bring the new version of Mir, the Mir-2, faced problems with the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. Thus, a new option of establishing an International Space Station came to the fore, and it was the dawn of a new era in the field of space exploration.