International Cooperation on the ISS
At the beginning of the Space Race in the late 1950s, the idea of international space missions was unthinkable. The grueling competition between the United States and Russia from the 1950s to the mid-1970s led to the rapid growth of space exploration and research. However, it soon was apparent that humanity needed international cooperation to transcend our Earthly bonds. After NASA’s joint Apollo-Soyuz mission with Russia in 1975, the precedent was set for international space missions.
Today, the International Space Station is one of the greatest feats of international STEM research. The International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998 thanks to the collaboration between the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan, and Canada. A lesser-known fact is that the ISS is the ninth inhabited space station; the first was Russia’s Salyut 1 space station in 1979.
Building and Launching the ISS
It cost $100 billion and 13 years to complete the ISS. It’s the size of a football field and weighs nearly a million pounds. Since the ISS was clearly too large and heavy to launch in one piece, the participating agencies decided to construct it in space.
The first part of the ISS was launched in 1998 by the Russian Zarya module, which was American-funded. The first crew arrived on November 2, 2000 on board the Russian Soyuz. Since that time, the ISS has been continuously inhabited. There has always been a Soyuz craft at the ISS for emergency crew transport.
Over time, new sections were added to the ISS. It was split into the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS). Although the station is split into these sections, it’s owned by all participating agencies and nations. The ISS also includes laboratories from participating nations. In 2001, the United States built the Destiny lab. In 2008, the labs Columbus and Kibo were included from the European Space Agency and Japan, respectively.
Thanks to the cooperation of these nations, the ISS was finally completed in 2011.
Current ISS Cooperation
Since its completion in 2011, the ISS has had six crewmembers on board at all times. A total of 15 nations work together on a regular basis to schedule launches for supplies, building materials, and crew transportation. The Russian Soyuz shuttles are the only crew transportation craft at the ISS, while the American Dragon spacecraft is used for bulk cargo. Seven different vehicles service the ISS and transport cargo to the ISS.
Cooperative international treaties and agreements between world powers have made the largest international scientific undertaking possible, while allowing multiple nations to share the cost of this ambitious undertaking. The important work the ISS provides could only have been possible with the full cooperation of these international powers.
The ISS is an exemplary case of international cooperation for the advancement of STEM development. Teachers can use the following resources to teach their students about both history and science through the ISS:
- Discovery Education provides this free lesson plan for grades 6-8 to learn about life in space.
- View this timeline of the ISS construction to teach students about history.
- Watch this video showing the complex processes involved during the ISS construction.