Friday, November 20, 1998 Published at 06:50 GMT
The Space Station era dawns
The International Space Station: A city in space
It is a project as audacious as the building of the Pyramids or the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe in the middle ages.
The International Space Station came a step nearer to reality on Friday when a Russian rocket blasted into orbit the first stage of the giant laboratory.
When it is finished, it will be so big - more than 100 metres across - that it will be visible from the ground.
Zarya, built in Russia but paid for by the US, is the first component of the station to go up, delivered on a Proton rocket.
Its orbit will be altered so that it can be visited by the space shuttle in a few weeks time. The shuttle will be bringing the next module for connection called Unity.
Many more missions will be necessary before astronauts can start to use the station as testbed to develop new technologies.
For the Russians, the whole project is a mixed blessing because with the ISS under construction they must start saying goodbye to their own space station Mir.
The Russians are clearly reluctant to abandon Mir. Although the West's common perception is that it is an accident prone station, Russia sees it differently. They regard it as having proved that man can live in space and overcome problems.
Russia had said it would bring Mir back to Earth in June 1999, but it now seems likely that they will keep it in space for at least another year.
If they abandon Mir, for the first time in the space age, they will be without a major space project of their own. It is therefore unsurprising that they are emotionally attached to Mir.
Once it is gone, then the last vestige of the cold war space rivalry between the United States and Russia will go with it.