ISS marks 10 years in space: conclusions

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MOSCOW. (Andrei Kislyakov for RIA Novosti) - The two main conclusions from a brief review of the first decade of the International Space Station (ISS)'s operation would be as follows.

First, the ISS, the most significant international space cooperation project in history, involving 15 nations, is a success. Second, it has set the trends in space exploration for coming decades.

The 1980s saw several breakthrough space programs. The U.S.S.R. launched the Mir space station, which was thought of as a prototype of settlements on other planets.

The U.S. Space Shuttle program was a very promising start of the development of reusable transport systems capable of establishing interplanetary communication.

In other terms, at the end of the 20th century, it became clear that a new era of major programs was dawning, involving constant human presence in the near earth and deep space exploration through interplanetary missions.

On the other hand, it was understood that such plans require both technological innovations and enormous financial resources. The cost of the U.S. Apollo program, including theoretical research and experimental orbiting of the Earth and Moon, is estimated at between $25 and $26 billion at 1960s values. The Space Shuttle program cost five times more. The U.S.S.R., hardly influenced by market economy fluctuations, shot its annual budget into the sky through the Energia-Buran program.

The world is changing, however, and even major world powers cannot afford to put their great space ambitions into practice on their own. Although former opponents, the United States and Russia managed to agree on cooperation within a fundamental space project, beyond any doubt determining the future development of major space programs.

The ISS deployment began on November 20, 1998, with Russian Proton-K carrier rocket placing in orbit the Zarya functional cargo block built by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center. In December, Zarya was docked by U.S. node Unity, brought by a shuttle. In July 2000, Russian Zvezda service module was launched to the ISS, which allowed further Space Shuttle flights to continue the assembly of the space station.

The fully assembled ISS is expected to weigh around 500 tons and have a length of 111 m, similar to that of a soccer field, an aggregate internal volume of 1,624 sq m and a gross solar panel area of 2,500 sq m.

Unfortunately, the Columbia disaster in February 2003 impeded its completion as scheduled. More importantly, however, the technical realization of the ISS program in the last decade has shown that international cooperation allows partners to achieve ambitious goals.

Moreover, it is only by working together that world nations can solve two problems: reducing space flight costs and increasing their safety. To ensure significant progress in space exploration, flights to near earth orbit have to become routine and safe like airliner flights. This could be achieved, however, only through multidimensional experiments and extensive operation in space, which is too costly for a single state.

The ISS is the world's stepping stone toward future accomplishments in space. It would be great if the idea to establish a council on this program, which would include representatives of all the participant nations, is implemented. The new structure would provide research management for the ISS, improve the coordination of the space station's assembly and ensure its effective use.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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