“The International Space Station is the most ambitious habitat contrived by mankind to support its existence beyond Earth. […] [Astonauts] live in a cluster of bus-sized modules that are bolted on to a long structural truss that is almost the length of Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The vantage point of the Station’s orbital path as it cycles back and forth across the equator provides it with stunning views of nine-tenths of the planet’s habitable surface. From an altitude of 400km, features such as mountains, glaciers, forests, fields, rivers, lakes and cities stand out clearly. Also visible are hurricanes, eruptions, fires, floods, landslides and from time to time the ravages of war.” (David Nixon, International Space Station: Architecture Beyond Earth, Circa Press, 2016).
In his 1984 state of the union address, President Ronald Reagan called on NASA to make a permanently manned space outpost within a decade, sparking the most complex engineering project in history: the International Space Station. Five different space agencies representing fifteen countries cooperated on the 100 billion dollar project, namely The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The European Space Agency (ESA), Japan’s national aero-space agency (JAXA), The Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activitie (Roscosmos) and The Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Assembly began in 1988, taking forty missions and thirteen years to complete. Roughly the size of a football field, and weighing more than 860 thousand pounds, it is by far the largest structure humans have ever put into space.
“The International Space Station (ISS) is an unprecedented human achievement from conception to construction, to operation and long term utili[s]ation of a research platform on the frontier of space.
Fully assembled and continuously inhabited by all partners, this orbiting laboratory provides a unique environment in which to conduct multidisciplinary research and technology development that drives space exploration, basic discovery, and Earth benefits.
The ISS is uniquely capable of unraveling the mysteries of our universe; from the evolution of our planet and life on Earth to technology advancements and understanding the effects of spaceflight on the human body. Through continued habitation and experience[,] this outpost also serves to facilitate human exploration beyond low Earth orbit to other destinations in our solar system.
Tis orbiting laboratory is our species largest foothold in space. Exploration, research and discovery, bound with international cooperation and commercial development serve to highlight the best that we can be.” (NASA, ISS Facilities: Research In Space 2013 and Beyond, 2013).
The ISS performs eight functions: space laboratory, astronomical observatory, transportation node, servicing facility, assembly platform, manufacturing plant, storage depot and staging base. Maintenance costs roughly three billion dollars a year, with the expectancy of it to rise by another billion by 2020. NASA’s budget last year was around 19 billion dollars, but so far it has been uncertain what the Trump administration has in mind for space funding and further research. Both the Russian and US space agencies will use the ISS until at least 2024 by which time a commercially run outpost such as a Space Hotel may be available.