This is how humans have lived in space for more than two decades

The first components of the International Space Station (ISS) were launched on November 20, 1998, approximately 12 years after the launch of the first Soviet MIR-2 module and 25 years after Skylab.

The assembly of the ISS took 10 years and more than 30 missions. This is the result of unprecedented scientific and engineering collaboration between five space agencies representing 21 countries: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), CSA (Canada) and ESA (16 EU countries and the United Kingdom). . ).

With fully equipped laboratories and advanced life support systems powered by solar arrays, the ISS has a place to live and work for up to seven crew members, conducting many types of research in low Earth orbit.

Let’s explore (and celebrate) one of the most impressive engineering works ever created.

What is a modular space station?

The ISS is a modular space station. This means that it is made of several pressure modules (currently 16). They were launched at various points in the history of the ISS.

Source: Daniel Molybdenum / Flickr

The first modules – the Russian-built Zarya (Sunrise) cargo unit and the US-built Unity junction – were launched in 1998. On December 6, the STS-88 crew captured Zarya and connected it to Unity inside the payload compartment of the shuttle. Although they have never been in the same hemisphere, the two parts fit together perfectly.

However, these first two modules lacked a long-term life support system and therefore the ISS was not occupied until 2000. Star service module has been added. This provided the station’s living quarters, life support systems, power distribution, data processing systems, flight control systems, propulsion systems, communication systems and a docking port and served as an early cornerstone for the station’s first human habitation. .

Soon after, Zvezda was followed by the first sections of Integrated farm structure. It has a total of 11 segments that act as anchorages for solar grids, thermal control radiators and external payloads, as well as electrical and cooling utility lines and Mobile conveyor rails.

The multifunctional laboratory module Science (“Science”), launched on July 21, 2021, is the newest module of the ISS. It serves as a scientific facility, docking port and airlock for space travel for future operations. There are also plans to add at least one more module to the ISS.

What is the purpose of the ISS?

The main purpose of the ISS is as a basis for conducting research in the field of astronomy, astrobiology, meteorology, chemistry, space weather, space medicine and others.

For this, it contains seven research or laboratory modules: Columbus (ESA), Destiny (NASA), Rassvet and Poisk (Russian mini-research module 1 and 2 respectively), Kibo (Japanese experimental module) and Nauka (multi-purpose laboratory module). In addition to the laboratories, the ISS has additional scientific hardware located at various points around the station.

Stand for research in the field of materials science
Stand for research in the field of materials science. Source: NASA / Flickr

About 3,000 scientific studies or experiments have been performed on the ISS. Cscience aboard the ISS is thriving as astronauts spend more time researching. Many of these studies aim to identify the effects of microgravity on the human body and how materials behave in space.

Ultimately, many of these studies could help pave the way for people to travel and stay in space for long periods of time without suffering from muscle atrophy and bone loss – some of the most common health problems associated with weightlessness. In fact, ISS crew members need to train for about two hours each day to avoid these problems. That is why the ISS is equipped with a space-adapted treadmill, a stationary wheel and weightlifting equipment.

Other research focuses on the Earth’s atmosphere and the cosmic rays of the Sun. The ISS crew has also conducted research on space dust, dark matter and antimatter in the universe, among many others.

Life on the ISS

The life of the ISS is made possible by modern life support systems that provide air, water and food.

Most of the oxygen used on the ISS is generated by electrolysis, a process in which electricity from the station’s solar panels is used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen is released into the spacecraft’s atmosphere so that astronauts can breathe. Exhaled carbon dioxide is removed using zeolite, a sponge-like material that absorbs CO2.

But where does the water come from? It would be too difficult and expensive to take water from Earth to the ISS. Keep in mind that at least 4,000 gallons of water a year will be needed to support a crew of four (and there is room for seven on the ISS). So it is more practical to produce it there, or rather, to reuse it.

The ISS’s Water Recovery System (WRS) takes water from the astronauts’ urine, as well as from the station’s humidity and condensation, and purifies it to turn it into drinking water. Some of the water is also sent from Earth to the station to ensure that there is enough “fresh” water to mix for the crew.

The crew uses this water to produce oxygen, drink and wash. There are no showers on the ISS because water does not fall under microgravity. Instead, the astronauts use liquid soap, water and shampoo without rinsing. They squeeze liquid soap and water from bags on their skin and towels to wipe off excess water.

As for food, it is delivered to the ISS from Earth as pre-prepared dishes in bags and cans with a zipper. Astronauts have microwave ovens and convector ovens to cook with. Much of the food is dehydrated to prevent spoilage or contamination. But astronauts also have some fresh food (mostly fruits and vegetables) chilled in the spacecraft. Their food supplies are usually recharged by an automated vehicle every two months.

The ISS crew can also make coffee using a space-adapted coffee machine called ISSpresso. They also have access to tea, lemonade and orange juice. However, they should drink it with a straw, as the liquids will come out of a glass.

JAXA space food ramen
JAXA ramen. Source: Tnk3a / Wikimedia Commons

After the astronauts eat and drink, they may want to go to the bathroom. Due to microgravity conditions, they must be attached to the toilet. To protect the debris from swimming, the ISS toilet has a suction fan that sucks out the debris.

As for sleeping, ISS astronauts wrap themselves in sleeping bags in the crew’s small cabins. Each crew cabin is large enough for one person. Given that going to bed is not possible with microgravity, they just doze off while swimming in the sleeping pod. Some astronauts mimic the feeling of pressure from blankets, using bungee cords or velcro heads to a pillow to get the feeling of lying on a pillow.

How long will the ISS remain in low Earth orbit?

Although the ISS is still working properly, NASA plans to retire him by the end of the decade. One plan is for private companies to build new space stations. According to NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAllister, NASA envisions being “just one of many users instead of the main sponsor and supporter of infrastructure” for these new space stations.

Here, NASA can save up to $ 1 billion each year. He can use that money to fund missions to the moon, Mars, and maybe beyond.

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