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Monday, November 16, 1998 Published at 13:34 GMT

The world's future in space

ISS: fully operational in 2003 - if all goes to plan

The International Space Station (ISS) will "change the course of human history", says Daniel Goldin, the administrator of the US space agency Nasa.

It is a momentous statement, the accuracy of which will, no doubt, be judged by future generations. The ISS is, by any standards, an ambitious idea. It is certainly the largest international scientific and technological project ever undertaken.

The goal is to establish and maintain a permanent presence in space and to provide a testbed for new technologies, medical research and the development of advanced industrial materials.

It will ultimately replace the Russian space station Mir, when it becomes operational in late 2003.


The United States took the lead on the ISS after the then US president Ronald Reagan announced in 1984 that he wanted to spend about $8bn putting a space station in orbit within a decade.

[ image: US astronaut Bill Shepherd will make history as the first ISS commander]
US astronaut Bill Shepherd will make history as the first ISS commander
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, it was decided to make the space station an international collaboration between the US, Russia, Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency (Esa), as well as a smaller input by the Brazilian Space Agency.

Nasa says the US will spend $21bn putting the ISS into space. Some observers say the final cost could be as much as $50bn

The station will be made up of various modules that will be transported into space on 44 flights over a period of five years.

When assembled, the ISS will have a pressurised cabin space equal to two 747 airplanes, will measure 356 feet (108.5 metres) across and 290 feet (88.3 metres) long and will weigh up to a million pounds (450 000 kilograms).

It is expected that up to seven people of all nationalities will live on the station at any one time.


It was hoped to launch the first part of the ISS, the Russian-built core control module - the Functional Cargo Block - in December 1997. But delays in its development pushed the launch date back to November 1998.

[ image: Work continues on the core module (FGB) in Russia]
Work continues on the core module (FGB) in Russia
Two weeks later the 'Unity' node will be launched by the space shuttle.

The first crew of the new station is planned to arrive early in 1999 on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and will stay for five months. The American astronaut Bill Shepherd will be the ISS's first commander.

The space station will orbit 220 miles (350 kilometres) above the earth at an inclination of 51.6 degrees to the equator providing observation coverage of 85% of the globe.

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