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The International Space Station

The International Space Station

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True or false? The International Space Station is the largest man-made object in space.

The International Space Station

Look, Kim, a shooting star! Quick, make a wish! Eh, Philip, I wish you would see it’s not a shooting star… Huh? What is it then? The fast moving, bright point Philip saw is actually the largest man-made object in space.

It travels so fast that it only takes about 90 minutes for it to make a full circle around the Earth. It is roughly as big as a football field, weighs about as much as two and a half blue whales, and has as much space inside as a six-bedroom house. Here, the astronauts live and conduct scientific experiments during their long space missions. This is the International Space Station. How was something so large and heavy ever launched into space?

Let’s see! Throughout the 1980s, the United States tries to create a space station for their astronauts. But there are many technical issues, funding problems, so the project is eventually cancelled. At the beginning of the 1990s, the US tries to bring other countries on board to support the project. After negotiations, it’s decided that 16 countries, including the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil and several European nations, will combine efforts to create the first truly international space station.

On November 20, 1998, the Russians launch the first element — a control module, Zarya. Two weeks later, a space shuttle delivers the US module Unity. An international crew of six astronauts join the US module to the Russian one in orbit, about 400 km from Earth. In the year 2000, Russian control centre Zvezda is added, and the International Space Station is ready for the first crew to move in. Over the years, more modules and elements are added, including a gigantic robotic arm, solar arrays that collect energy, airlock modules that allow astronauts to go on a spacewalk without letting the air out of the spacecraft, a number of laboratories where astronauts run experiments.

Spacecraft from participating countries continue to bring supplies, fuel, people, and spare parts back and forth to the Space Station. Since the first three modules of the International Space Station were assembled in 2000, it has been continuously occupied by astronauts. In total, more than 200 people from 19 countries have stayed on board the International Space Station, most for around six months at a time. The astronauts’ main job is scientific research. Inside the International Space Station, gravity is so low that everything appears weightless.

This makes it possible to conduct experiments that wouldn’t be possible on Earth. The crew on the International Space Station study, for example, how different materials and liquids behave in a low-gravity environment. Astronauts research meteorology, astronomy, biology and medicine too! This research helps us learn more about our planet and the universe, and to prepare for possible future space missions. Astronauts also have to maintain the International Space Station.

They make sure all the systems work as they should, and fix all kinds of technical problems. Astronauts also participate in various educational initiatives for students all over the world! They record interesting experiments, and even answer students’ questions in live video calls from space! The International Space Station might be one of the most complex projects humanity has ever completed. It allows for new scientific discoveries, and the sharing of knowledge on a large scale.

The International Space Station would have been impossible without the cooperation of all the countries involved. Ha! I’ve learned something new! Oh, and that one there, blinking! Is that an international space station too?

That’s a plane, Philip!