Twenty years ago this week, three people whose nations were formerly enemies embarked upon a journey of scientific and social cooperation. NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian space engineers Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev set foot in a laboratory orbiting 227 nautical miles above Earth. They left behind conflicts, differences, and rivalries. Living and working together for 136 days, they built what has become the International Space Station.
During the last two decades, what is perhaps civilization’s greatest success in peace has welcomed 241 people from 19 nations. The International Space Station was an investment of many countries (costing over $100 billion) but it has yielded a good return on investment. We now know how to build in space, we have studied the effects of microgravity, we have developed new technologies including Lasik laser surgery, and we have learned to live cooperatively.
International Space Station is scheduled and financed for the next four – five years. Some say it will be privatized after that, with commercial ventures supporting the $4 billion per year upkeep. There are plans for Axiom Space, located in Houston, Texas, to build a commercial module addition to the Space Station. But many are reluctant to pursue privatization of what has been a monument of international cooperation. In Japanese, the International Space Station has a poetic name: Kibo, meaning Hope. It was Japanese astronaut Wakata Koichi who composed the first poem ever written in space:
Afloat in the darkness before my eyes
the watery planet bluely flows
How strong is my affection for that ancient home of ours,
how deep my gratitude for the gift of life.
Tomorrow, I will dare the blue sky
and open up worlds unknown
For there we have our dreams.
Axiom Space. “Missions to the International Space Station today; the world’s first commercial space station tomorrow. Axiom Space. https://www.axiomspace.com/
Chang, Kenneth. “How the Space Station Became a Base to Launch Humanity’s Future.” 2 November 2020. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/02/science/international-space-station-20-anniversary.html?referringSource-articleShare
International Space Station. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html
Koichi, Wakata. “Afloat in the darkness.” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). http:issjaxa.jp/utiliz/renshi/index_e.html
Stickland, Ashley. “Humans have been living on the space station for 20 years.” 2 November 2020. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/02/world/space-station-20th-anniversary-continuous-human-presence-scn-trnd/index.html.
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unp