Our Base in Space

The International Space Station Faces Setbacks During Construction

Thousands of people from 16 nations are working together to build the biggest structure to ever float above our planet: the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is a giant Lego project in the sky. More than 100 major pieces are being assembled 230 miles above Earth, where gravity is much lower than it is on the surface.

An International Effort

In November 1998, the Russian Proton rocket made the first flight to the ISS, delivering the first module, Zarya Control Module. The U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavour followed in December 1998, and astronauts attached the Unity Node to Zarya. The first crew, consisting of one American and two Russians, arrived at ISS in October 2000. From that point on, ISS has been permanently staffed.

Construction Setbacks

Because of the low gravity in space, the different sections of the ISS, including the 17 main modules, are being put together there rather than on Earth. NASA had expected the final pieces of the station to be assembled by April 2006, but a number of unexpected events put construction well behind schedule. The most notable was 2003's tragic breakup of the space shuttle Columbia. When NASA suspended all shuttle flights for two and a half years after the disaster, the station lost its main delivery method of both crew and supplies. During that time, a rotating crew of two people maintained the station using the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA shuttles resumed flights in 2005, and construction was able to continue. In 2006, the member countries agreed on a new construction schedule and scaled down the addition of some instruments. In 2007, astronauts overcame a number of difficulties to install new solar panels designed to provide energy for future modules. Unfortunately, the surge of additional power to the station may have been responsible for a computer crash that shut down a number of important systems and had officials on the ground fearing the station would need to be temporarily abandoned. Luckily, the problem was solved and crew members were able to continue with their normal rotation schedule.

In October 2007, Dr. Peggy Whitson, an American astronaut, became the first woman to command the space station. During a 14-day mission aboard Discovery in November 2007, astronauts temporarily attached the Harmony module to the space station, adding 2,500 cubic feet of living and work area to the station. They also moved a 17.5-ton solar array and truss and unexpectedly had to repair a rotary joint and a solar array.

Completion by 2010

The station is now expected to be completed by 2010, the same year NASA is scheduled to decommission the space shuttle. The station will continue to serve as a home in space for humans until 2016, when it will be shut down. The station is expected to cost a total of $130 billion, a great deal more than was originally anticipated.

Station Visable to Naked Eye

People hoping to catch a glimpse of the International Space Station can do so on many occasions because of its relatively low orbit and the frequency with which it orbits Earth. A schedule of when the station will pass over certain parts of the world can be found at NASA's Skywatch web site.

Scientific Exploration Planned for Future

When finished, the ISS will be as large as two football fields and will include six separate science labs. Astronauts, who will work on the ISS for up to six months at a time, will conduct experiments on board. They plan to study the long-term effects of weightlessness on humans, invent substances that work best in very low gravity, and more.

Participating countries are: the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Brazil.

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