The space station is only 25 years old and will continue for at least another eight years
Today, November 20, is exactly 25 years ago that the first parts of the International Space Station, ISS, were shot into space. Designing and building the components of the space station started much earlier, in the mid-1980s. The ISS has now grown into the largest and most expensive scientific collaboration project the world has ever seen. A collaboration between fifteen countries and space organizations, from the US, Canada and Japan, to Russia, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Building in space, for advanced students
In the 25 years that the ISS has actually been under construction – new solar panels were installed in the past 12 months – the station has been expanded into a floating space laboratory with 43 modules. In addition to various labs and (sleeping) quarters for the astronauts, there are also a number of external ‘docking stations’ so that the spacecraft of the various participating countries and space organizations can connect to the station to deliver supplies and (new) parts. Here you can Overview view all modules and other elements installed and/or replaced since the inception of the ISS.
The space station has been permanently inhabited since November 2, 2000. The astronaut who spent the longest consecutive time there was Frank Rubio: 371 days. That was not planned, but problems with the coolant system of the Russian capsule that was supposed to return him to Earth forced him to stay longer.
ISS is old, but will continue until at least 2031
Not every country will have kept all the receipts anymore, but there is a good estimate of what the ISS has cost so far. That means from the first idea to construction, expansion and operation. The counter currently stands at 150 billion dollars. And it will continue for a while.
The question, however, is how much longer. Last year, when the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out, and actually before that, the Russians already hinted several times that they wanted to stop cooperation on the ISS. However, so far they have not fulfilled that ‘promise’, although the latest status is that they really want to stop the collaboration in 2028. In any case, NASA itself has said that the ISS will certainly be actively used until 2031. What happens next is a waste of money.
China has now had its own space station, Tiangong, for several years. However, given the still tense relations between ‘the West’ and China, there is little chance that NASA and ESA will collaborate with the Chinese when the very old ISS is ‘used up’.
No daylight saving time for the fragrant ISS
The ISS orbits the Earth at a speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour, approximately 400 kilometers above sea level. A tour around the Earth takes about an hour and a half. That does not mean that the astronauts on board have to change their clocks dozens of times every hour and a half. It has been decided to use the GMT or UTC time. This means that in winter the ISS is 1 hour earlier than ours. And no, the ISS does not have daylight saving time, so it is 2 hours earlier on the space station than here.
Although the ISS consists of 43 modules, it is a cramped space for an average of seven residents. Getting some air out is not an option in the room. You cannot open windows and fresh air is precious and mainly intended for the astronauts to stay alive. Stories from scientists and other guests who have been to the ISS show that it does not smell particularly fresh. They even compare it to a prison smell, with toilet freshener, ozone and metal.
Oh yes, and everything that astronauts exhale, sweat and pee is filtered and processed back into drinking water. To ensure that you do not float through the different modules while sleeping, sleeping bags are attached to the wall. And you may be able to skip a day of fitness, but training on a special exercise bike and with ‘weights’ is a must if you don’t want to have no muscles left after your space trip. By the way, this is only something you have to worry about if you spend weeks and months at a time in space (weightlessness).
If, despite these facts, you decide to travel to the ISS as a tourist, you will have to take into account more than $30,000 per day for travel and accommodation costs. In this way, NASA and its partners want to earn back some of the 150 billion they have spent on the ISS since its inception.