JSC98121201 - 12 DECEMBER 1998 - JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, TEXAS, USA: Space Shuttle Endeavor astronaut James H. Newman wraps up a spacewalk as he and fellow mission specialist Jerry L. Ross (out of frame) near the completion of their third and final scheduled space walk December 12, to assemble the first elements of the International Space Station. Newman holds onto handrails on the U.S.-built Unity connecting module (foreground). Zarya can be seen beyond Newman, backdropped over ocean waters some 173 nautical miles below. wy/iw/NASA UPI | License Photo
Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The International Space Station began its journey to becoming a habitable artificial satellite 15 years ago, with the Russian Space Agency launching the Proton rocket.
The rocket payload consisted of the Zarya module, which was the nucleus around which the ISS was to be installed in space. Two weeks later, NASA's Endeavour spacecraft launched the Unity, which became the first U.S. piece in building the complex space station.
“We were in the control center in Houston that night to watch Zarya launch, along with a good number of people from the program,” said Bill Bastedo, who was in charge of the Unity module. “It was actually, for us, exciting to have Zarya on orbit so we could get our chance to execute our mission.”
The ISS has had continuous human habitation since Nov. 2, 2000.
The space station is now 167 feet long and has an array of solar panels with a surface area of 38,400 square feet -- large enough to cover eight basketball courts. The complex now has more livable room than a conventional six-bedroom house, and has two bathrooms, a gymnasium and a 360-degree bay window.
The ISS is more than just a laboratory orbiting the Earth. It has acted as a space port for international spacecrafts, with more than 130 spacecrafts docking on the ISS. At the time of its anniversary the ISS had logged more than 1.5 billion statute miles, which is the equivalent of eight round trips to the Sun.
"The ISS is the engineering test bed that enables us to prove the systems we need and deal with the crew health issues that must be solved for us to actually go beyond Earth for extended periods of time, when we eventually go to Mars and beyond,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.
One of the major achievements of the ISS has been the international cooperation shown by countries across three continents leading to the largest and most complex spacecraft ever built.
More than 69 countries have put research on the orbiting laboratory that advances space exploration and provides a multitude of scientific benefits on Earth. These include neurosurgical medical technology in Canada; water purification technology in rural Mexico; agricultural monitoring in the northern Great Plains of the United States.
In order to maintain the space station, astronauts have had to make 174 spacewalks equaling 1,100 hours and haven't had any Gravity-like incidents so far.