At that moment, seven people fly over their heads at a frightening speed of 28,000 km / h. For most of us, this information has become mundane and irrelevant. The ISS missions no longer really concern the general public, and the international space station’s presence in our skies is being acquired. However, when the project was launched by Ronald Reagan in 1984, gambling went insane.
From the early 1980s, NASA sought allies in the West Bloc to build a large interstate station. In 1993, with the fall of the USSR, Russia became a major player in the international broadcasting project, and the beginnings of the ISS took shape. In orbit assembly began in 1998 and the station’s first occupants arrived on November 2, 2000 just 20 years ago.
Today marks the # SpaceStation20 and we conclude our crew countdown with the members of Expeditions 62, 63 and 64. With their stays on the station during the 20th year of continuous human presence, they will continue the series in 2020. pic.twitter.com/0miDWJGWTs
– Intl. Space station (@Space_Station) 3rd November 2020
On this day two cosmonauts (Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei K. Krikalev) and one astronaut (William Shepherd) arrive for a mission that will last longer than four months. They will be forwarded in March 2001, a few weeks before their departure, by two new astronauts and a cosmonaut. Since then, the station has been permanently inhabited, a technical achievement that has enabled a certain scientific leap forward.
A scientific gold mine
Because the presence of humans in space, especially for such long stays (approx. 6 months), is a real gold mine for researchers all over the world. The last Frenchman in space, Thomas Pesquet, conducted more than 100 experiments during his stay at the station. The main area analyzed by scientists is the management of weightlessness by the human body.
Weightlessness forced the ISS engineers to rethink everything down to the smallest detail. For example, the ISS toilets are by far the most expensive in the world and cost around 20 million euros. An astronomical figure that has become the standard within the ISS.
Over the 20 years it has been inhabited, the station’s full cost is estimated at $ 150 billion. For comparison: In France, the defense budget is around 30 billion euros per year. A colossal sum that seems out of date to turn 6 astronauts in 450 tons of steel more than 350 kilometers above our heads. But is this price justified?
A reasonable price?
From a purely accounting point of view, no. The ISS is not profitable, very far from it, but that is not its goal. Although NASA is beginning to promote space travel to the ISS, supporters of the International Space Station remind us that it is a place of science, not business. Thanks to this jewel of technology, many scientific discoveries have been made possible. Because it has to be recognized that the ISS has an extraordinary scientific impact, just like other space missions like the Hubble telescope or the Mars missions. But even with these astronomical cadets, the scientific fallout from the ISS is just colossal.
The work, in particular on the physics of liquids, made it possible to analyze their behavior in a weightless environment and to discover new properties. They are used today in the construction or in the construction of large architectural structures. Recent missions have made it possible to determine the survival conditions of microorganisms in extremely hostile environments close to the space vacuum.
Outside the ISS, the astronauts’ return to Earth and the human body’s ability to regenerate are impressive. Sébastien Barde, deputy director of the CNES (National Center for Space Studies), recalls “With a 6 month stay in space on the arteries, it’s like they lasted 20 years. “”
Back on Earth, however, the human body regains abilities almost identical to those it had before it entered orbit. Although this regeneration is still poorly understood, it is being studied extensively, especially in medicine in the search for treatments against cancer or the AIDS virus.
What future for the ISS?
With so much research going on and the experiments continuing inside the station, the question of their assets seems to be sealed. With more than 60 completed expeditions, 241 residents in 20 years of permanent settlement, one could say that the best of the ISS is behind it. On the other hand, no agency seems very inclined to abandon the structure. But the space station, like the Hubble space telescope, should give way soon.
When it launched in 2000, the manned missions at the station were supposed to last 15 years. After all, there are still 6 people on board in 2020, waiting for a new home.
So where are we? The station’s budget has been validated until 2024 for the time being. The next expeditions have already been carried out, and Thomas Pesquet, our astronaut, should return to space in the coming months. Because the ESA wants the space station to be functional at least until 2028. But NASA could withdraw from the project to build its own station in lunar orbit. This project is part of the Artemis program that seeks to send men back to the moon, but the latter is hanging by a thread and the result of the American election could make him forgotten.