The International Space Station is not only a feat of modern engineering but is also a symbol of cooperation between nations, forging ahead to find out more about our planet and the solar system that it is in. The construction of the space station started in 1998, and due to the size of the project, it had to be launched into space in separate parts and constructed by astronauts up there.
Of course, people had been into space before and even to the moon, however the ISS posed a range of new problems for scientists and engineers – keeping some up there permanently is a very different thing to having a rocket go up, spend some time in space and return back to Earth.
The space station itself needs to be well thought out – heat is one of the biggest problems for spacecraft, and heat shields, surface treatments and even the colour white as a reflector are all things that are used to prevent the craft and the astronauts within from being overheated.
The other thing that scientists raised some concerns about was the amount of time that astronauts were going to be spending there. Space and the zero gravity environment has an effect on the human body, which naturally has systems that are designed to work with the gravity of the Earth. From the blood pumping around the body, to going to the toilet, there were all sorts of things that needed to be answered.
Astronauts also need supplies – when spending time up there for long periods, vital supplies to sustain life on the space station like food, water and oxygen would all need to be delivered to it.
However, all of these things have indeed been overcome and scientists and engineers worked hard to ensure that the space station is not only operational but also that the astronauts are safe and comfortable whilst on the mission. A mission on the space station is usually around six months, and when astronauts return to Earth, they are closely monitored by doctors to keep an eye on their health.
Sadly, since the invasion of the Ukraine, the future of Russia’s involvement in the ISS is looking bleak. Russia has said that it will withdraw and set up its own space station from 2024 onwards, perhaps signalling the end of the peaceful period of unified space exploration.