In 1990, while I was still a productive citizen, I luckily got to see plans for Space Station Freedom. This was at the Johnson Space Center, always a great client to visit. Back then my contractor ID gave me access to many buildings on the NASA campus, so occasionally I took a self-guided tour!

Space Station Freedom did not get off the ground, but it sure looked beautiful on paper. It was too expensive. NASA eventually partnered with someone, and as it turned out, it took several partners to get moving forward. Enter Russia (Roscosmos), Japan (JAXA), Europe (ESA), and Canada (CSA). Wow, now it seemed the old adage about too many chefs was about to come true. How would this work?

It worked, of course not without controversy and some temper tantrums. Not without compromise. Not without some stripping down of the Space Station Freedom design. Nevertheless, the International Space Station became reality!

Beginning in 1998 Russian modules were launched on a Proton rocket by Roscosmos and the Space Shuttle by NASA. Additional modules were attached and by November 2000 Expedition 1, the first resident crew was onboard.

Over the years more modules were sent and attached, eventually creating facilities for living and running a variety of tests/experiments. A science lab in space. With 12, yes 12 docking ports the ISS could host quite a party! OK, only eight can dock at one time, but it could still host quite a crowd. Party in space y’all!  At least there aren’t any neighbors to bother.

Twenty-one years and counting. To say the least the ISS has performed up to and beyond everyone’s expectations. A few of the accomplishments include:

-Water purification advancement that can be used in areas on Earth lacking clean water

-Earth’s overall health monitoring by studying water, air, land masses, and vegetation from space

-Studying the fifth state of matter (Bose-Einstein condensate or BEC) to better understand quantum mechanics

-Studying cosmic particles to better understand how our universe began and its makeup

-Microgravity provides a good way to study how cancer cells behave, promoting the development of improved cancer therapies

-Microgravity gives researchers enhanced ability to identify how disease-causing proteins grow so targeted medications can be developed

-A better understanding of how muscle and bone loss occurs and how to treat those processes

In 2021 Russia decided to withdraw from the ISS program by 2025, based on the station’s physical conditions. However, their current hostile actions in Ukraine and the world’s overwhelming condemnation might expedite the withdrawal. The ISS is showing its age, with frequent air leak repairs and occasional system hiccups. Currently the ISS program is set to expire in 2030, and scheduled for deorbit and burn up over the South Pacific Ocean in January 2031.

What’s in the Sky?

Check out the ISS: A good flyover occurs on March 15, starting at 6:48pm: It starts in the southwest, heading northeast, going nearly overhead, through Orion and Gemini, then disappearing in Earth’s shadow as it enters the Bid Dipper of Ursa Major.