There has been a lot of talk of late about whether Russia is going to opt out of the International Space Station (ISS) given their tense relations with the U.S. and other European nations. There have also been unconfirmed reports about Russia choosing to make their own space station. Doubts have even been raised about whether the Russians can gather enough resources and material apart from the technological know–how to make one. That makes it important for taking a look at the previous and existing space stations and how they were built. Seven out of nine space stations ever built and placed in earth’s orbit were made by Soviet Russia.
The ISS is presently being run under partnership of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Russia, and the European Space Agency. The U.S. and Russia, in the post-Cold War era, merged their plans to build a space station in a single facility. Japan and the European Space Agency later decided that they would also be joining the effort in building the ISS. With the November 20, 1998 launch of the Russian module Zarya, the assembly of ISS began. Next, the U.S. built the connecting node Unity, which was assembled by astronauts of the U.S. space shuttle. The ISS became habitable for humans by the end of 2000. The Russian Soyuz vehicle which acted as a lifeboat was permanently docked. The crew of Expedition 1 docked on the station November 2, 2000 which was the first mission that required a longer duration stay on the ISS. The crew of three astronauts stayed on the ISS for 136 days. The ISS became completely operational May 2009.
Space Stations are assembled in orbit after they are sent up in different modules. There are nine different stations that have been built since 1971. Apart from Skylab and the ISS, seven other space stations named Salyut 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and Mir have been built by Soviet Russia. The ISS and other stations are used for many experiments and observations of the sun, various astronomical objects, understanding behavior of biological systems in state of weightlessness and earth’s resources. A lot of research in the fields of astronomy, space medicine, earth’s weather, and astrobiology is carried out on the ISS. Another key area of study is the impact of very long duration of weightlessness on human body like bone loss, fluid shift, and muscle atrophy.
The concept of space station was popularized by Wernhervon Braun, a German-American aerospace engineer. Braun is regarded as the father of rocket science. He wrote many articles about his idea of a large structure resembling a wheel, which could be used for putting together space vehicles for expeditions on the moon. There was a race between the Soviets and the U.S. for landing space missions on the moon during years of the Cold War. Due to this, the idea of a large space station was not worked on. As the U.S. was first to land a man on the moon, the Soviets used their spacecraft named Soyuz, which was actually built to reach the moon, to build a space station. Earlier, the idea was to use it as a military outpost. However, the Soviets chose to use this opportunity to equip the station as a scientific laboratory. Salyut 1 was the first space station launched April 19, 1971. Overall, seven out of the nine space stations ever built were indigenously made by Soviet Russia.
By Ankur Sinha
Photo by Bruce Irving-Flickr License