Airbus Defence and Space

The ISS: A dream come true

A space station in orbit around the Earth? The idea is hardly a new one. It was even evoked in the short story "The Brick Moon" written by Edward Everett Hale in 1869! Ever since, the subject has been a never-ending source of inspiration for writers and filmmakers.

Although space stations may be the stuff of dreams, it was the Cold War between Russia and the United States that brought about the first concrete applications. In the 1960s, the U.S. based its efforts on the MOL project (Manned Orbital Laboratory), which would eventually be abandoned before ever taking off the ground. Salyut was the first space station program undertaken by the Soviet Union, beginning in 1971. The program would continue through 1991. The Americans eventually focused their efforts on a manned space station project, known as Skylab, which built on the success of the Apollo mission that placed the first man on the Moon. Skylab would be deployed in 1973.

The next major step came in February, 1986, when Mir, the Russian space station, first entered orbit. Mir, which was based on a modular design, was manned on an almost permanent basis until 1999. In 2001, its mission was ended when the station was voluntarily deorbited and it disintegrated in the Earth's atmosphere.

Assembly first began on the International Space Station (ISS) in November, 1998, when the Russian module Zarya was launched. The ISS has been hosting astronauts since the year 2000, making man's permanent presence in space a reality. More than just an inspiring symbol, the ISS has also made major scientific projects possible, but the success of the ISS depends on high-performance logistics that bring the crews everything they need to live in space (lien vers "High-altitude resupply missions").

Today, as China continues work on a permanent space station based on its Shenzhou spacecraft, the future of the ISS remains uncertain. Initially, the station was to be retired in 2016, but there is now talk of prolonging the program. The ISS may even remain in orbit until 2020 so that it can house new scientific research programs – provided, of course, that it shows no signs of fatigue.

International Space StationISS