International Space Station: Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

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International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

table of CONTENTS

8 16 18 30 36 46 56 64 74 82

20 YEARS ON THE FRONTIER The life and legacy of the International Space Station BY CRAIG COLLINS


LIKE A FAMILY UP THERE Planning on the ground keeps the International Space Station family on orbit. BY ERIC TEGLER

SCIENCE IN SPACE The International Space Station: The greatest science show in the universe BY CRAIG COLLINS

SPACE TAXIS NASA’s Commercial Resupply and Crew programs open a new frontier for private enterprise. BY CRAIG COLLINS



THE OVERVIEW EFFECT What happens when you see Earth from space – and why it’s so hard to explain BY CRAIG COLLINS

THE NEXT FRONTIER The future of the space station, low-Earth orbit, and beyond BY CRAIG COLLINS


International Space Station


Published by Faircount Media Group 450 Carillon Parkway, Suite 105 St. Petersburg, FL 33716 Tel: 813.639.1900 EDITORIAL Editor in Chief: Chuck Oldham Managing Editor: Ana E. Lopez Editor: Rhonda Carpenter Contributing Writers: Craig Collins, Edward Goldstein, Eric Tegler DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Art Director/Project Designer: Robin K. McDowall ADVERTISING Ad Sales Manager: Geoffrey Weiss Account Executives: Steve Chidel Joe Gonzalez, Beth Hamm OPERATIONS AND ADMINISTRATION Chief Operating Officer: Lawrence Wayne Roberts VP, Business Development: Robin Jobson Business Development and Marketing: Damion Harte Accounting Manager: Joe Gonzalez FAIRCOUNT MEDIA GROUP Publisher: Ross Jobson

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NASA photo

NASA photo


epending on how you mark your milestones, you could say the International Space Station (ISS) came into existence in December of 1998, when its first two building blocks met each other: The control module Zarya (Russian for “sunrise”) was launched on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and was joined a few days later by the first American module, Unity, which rode the space shuttle Endeavour from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s retired former space station program manager, Kirk Shireman (Joel Montalbano is currently the space station program manager), began his career at the agency in 1985, and spent nearly all of it at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, helping to develop, operate, and manage the orbiting laboratory. As a feat of precision engineering, the ISS still amazes him. “The first time those two modules ever saw each other was in space, 230 miles up, traveling 17,500 miles an hour,” he said. When the hatch to Unity opened for the first time, said Shireman, “The question we all had – at least those who were close to the program – was: Who was going to be the first person onboard the International Space Station? The answer was that it was both a U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut – a Marine Corps pilot and a Russian military pilot, as well. Sergei Krikalev and Bob Cabana went through the hatch together and entered the station at the same time.” The International Space Station had begun to take shape many years before that day, of course, and a decade earlier nobody would have predicted such a display of fellowship. The former Cold War enemies spent the 1980s developing separate space station projects in parallel – in competition, you could say – in the style of their mid-century Space Race. The Soviet Union had launched the first modular space station, Mir, in 1986, and was developing a successor, Mir 2. The United States, with the Canadian, Japanese, and European partners it had attracted and cultivated through its Space Shuttle Program, was designing an answer to Mir called Space Station Freedom. Things had taken a dramatic turn by 1993, when the space station envisioned by the United States and its partners, over budget and behind schedule, came within one vote of being eliminated by the U.S. Congress. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, had ceased to exist. Krikalev, orbiting in Mir, had been stranded in orbit after his country’s collapse, forced to spend an extra six months in space while the new Russian Federation sorted itself out.

Top: In December 1998, the crew of Space Shuttle Mission STS-88 began construction of the International Space Station, joining the U.S.-built Unity node to the Russian-built Zarya module. The crew carried a large-format IMAX® camera with which this picture was taken. With Unity in place, NASA astronaut Nancy Currie begins positioning Zarya – in the grip of Canadarm – for mating. Above: Russia’s Mir space station is seen in June 1998 during a post-undock fly-around by the space shuttle Discovery, from which this 70 mm frame was taken. The markings in the photo are those of the Crew Optical Alignment Sight (COAS), an important instrument used normally for rendezvous and docking maneuvers. Discovery had been docked to Mir as part of the Shuttle-Mir program.

Despite often tense U.S.-Soviet relations, the two space agencies, NASA and Roscosmos, had always been on friendly terms; the Shuttle-Mir program, launched a year earlier, had already laid the groundwork for a thaw. In 1993, the agencies were the first in their respective countries to understand that if their visions for a low-Earth orbit space station were to survive in any form, they would need to rely on each other’s expertise and resources. When Krikalev and Cabana entered Unity together, five years after their agencies rescued each other, it was a celebration of this once-unlikely partnership. By late 2000, the space station was ready to receive its first long-duration crew. On Oct. 31, Expedition 1 – Krikalev, Yuri Gidzenko, and William Shepherd – blasted off from Baikonur, docked with the station two days later, and spent four-and-a-half months together in Zarya and the Zvezda Service Module (the temporary solar arrays didn’t provide enough power to heat Unity, so it was left unoccupied). The orbital outpost has been permanently occupied since that day: Nov. 2, 2000. From the very beginning, the space station was a working laboratory in space – the Expedition 1 crew performed plasma and protein crystal growth experiments – but for about a decade, the station was a massive construction site in orbit. Work focused on the Canadian-built Mobile Servicing System, and its Space Station Remote Manipulator System nicknamed “Canadarm2,” which moved massive objects, such as the large pressurized modules, and the construction crew – astronauts and cosmonauts – to areas that would


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence Left: NASA astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 14 flight engineer, uses a pistol grip tool during a session of extravehicular activity as construction continues on the International Space Station in January 2007. During the 7-hour, 55-minute spacewalk, Williams and astronaut Michael E. López-Alegría (out of frame) reconfigured one of two cooling loops for the Destiny laboratory module, rearranged electrical connections, and secured the starboard radiator of the P6 truss after retraction. Below left: Russia’s Soyuz MS-12 crew ship (foreground) and Progress 72 resupply ship are seen in June 2019 against a mesmerizing backdrop of the aurora australis, or “southern lights,” in this photo taken from the International Space Station. The Soyuz has been flying cosmonauts and astronauts to


and a Russian Science Power Platform – were canceled. Shireman remembers this as a hugely significant event in the life of the space station program. “The shuttle went away, and the Russians said, ‘We’ve got it,’ and they flew our crewmembers home. We started flying all our crewmembers up and down on Soyuz vehicles. And the Russians didn’t bat an eye. It did cost them some flight opportunities. A great partner came to our aid.” While some crewmembers continued to launch to the orbital outpost aboard space shuttle orbiters until the fleet’s retirement in July 2011, the Soyuz has been flying cosmonauts and astronauts for the last 17 years. During the 30-month grounding of the orbiter fleet, station crews were reduced from three to two – the maximum that could be supplied by the Russian Progress cargo spacecraft. Other partners stepped up to provide cargo delivery capabilities to the station.

NASA photo

have been otherwise unreachable. Dextre, the robotic “hand” that can be mounted at the arm’s end, added some finesse and touch to the heavy crane work. Building and operating the space station was a task of unprecedented complexity, and the international partnership encountered surprises and setbacks along the way. Among the most significant was the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew in January 2003, when the orbiter broke apart during atmospheric reentry. Once NASA had recovered from the emotional shock of losing seven astronauts, the agency and its space station partners faced the practical implications of an aging orbiter fleet. Assembly of the station was delayed while the shuttle fleet was grounded for investigation of the accident. When station construction resumed, it was a process redesigned to ease the strain on the remaining orbiters. Two key components – a Japanese centrifuge module

Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) flew deliveries from 2008 to 2014, and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) began delivering cargo in 2009. Michael Suffredini managed NASA’s space station program for a decade beginning in 2005, before the space shuttle had resumed flying. “What saved the International Space Station after the Columbia accident was the fact that the partners were there,” he said. “They had built their modules. If the station hadn’t been there, I’m not sure we’d even have flown the shuttle again. But we had to meet our commitments to our partners.” The strength of the partnership wasn’t the only thing to impress Suffredini after the Columbia tragedy. The station is an engineering marvel – “It’s amazing,” he said, “that a spacecraft can be built without any part ever seeing its mate on the ground” – that was built to withstand uncertainty. “We had a spacecraft in orbit,” he said, “and we didn’t really have an option to stay on the ground until we figured things out ... and fortunately the station was designed so that at any point in the assembly, that configuration had to be able to survive and stay in orbit indefinitely.” Shireman, who was deputy program manager from 2006 to 2013, remembers an event that confronted the space station with the real possibility that it might have to be abandoned. On June 7, 2007, as a new solar panel was being attached to the station, all six of the Russian navigational computers responsible for maintaining the station’s orbital position crashed. This left the station in a precarious position, Shireman said – the greatest danger it had ever faced. “Once the shuttle undocked,” he said, “the station would tumble and be out of control, and that would be the end of it. The crews would have been safe,

NASA photo

and from the space station for 17 years.

Right: The newly installed Kibo laboratory (center left) attached to the port side of the Harmony node of the International Space Station is photographed in 2008 from space shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation. The Kibo logistics module is visible at bottom left. The Columbus laboratory is at center right and the Canadian-built Dextre is at center top, along with two Russian spacecraft docked with the station. Below right: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, a crewmember of Expedition 49 aboard the International Space Station, works on an experiment inside the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox. The glovebox is one of the major dedicated science facilities inside the Destiny laboratory and provides a sealed environment for NASA photo

conducting science and technology experiments. More than 3,000 scientific investigations have been conducted onboard the space station.

but once they undocked they wouldn’t be able to come back.” Ground crews around the world worked 24 hours a day for four days to solve the problem – which was eventually traced to a leaky air conditioner – and to restart the computers. Shireman didn’t sleep for three days. The station was fully operational on June 11. “At the eleventh hour, we figured out what the problem was and were able to recover the computers,” Shireman said. “It’s another example of everyone doing their own thing until the need arose, and then everyone just pulled together and did what we needed to do. It’s probably not a story that the public knows a lot about today. But it was one of the great engineering war stories of the program.” Today, in his frequent meetings with people at the other space agencies, they still remember it vividly. “They’re lifelong friends as a result of that event,” he said. “It really had lasting effects on our partnership.”

NASA photo

AN UNFATHOMABLE LEGACY The configuration – and population – of the space station underwent dramatic transitions from 2008 to 2009, when the European and Japanese laboratory modules, Columbus and Kibo, arrived to substantially complete the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS). The station’s frontmost module, Harmony (Node 2) served as a crossroads, connecting these two modules to the American Destiny laboratory. The station, designed to house six or seven crewmembers over a six-month increment, was finally roomy enough to do so, and the first six-person crew arrived for Expedition 20 in May 2009: Gennady Padalka and Roman Romanenko from Russia, Michael Barratt

from the United States, Frank De Winne from Belgium, Robert Thirsk from Canada, and Koichi Wakata from Japan. “We had a member from every international partner onboard at one time,” recalled Shireman. “I think it’s the only time we’ve ever – at least for a long-duration increment – had someone from every agency on simultaneously. And I think that was a really great day for the partnership.” In early 2011, the space shuttle Endeavour made its final flight, delivering one of the orbiting laboratory’s most important experimental packages: the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02), a particle detector that is helping scientists understand the origins of the universe. Several modifications to the station have been made since then, but 2011 marked one of the space station program’s most significant milestones: assembly complete. The station now entered the utilization phase, an era in which – with its laboratories in full swing, staffed by a full complement of

crewmembers – it would contribute to the global commons through a mature and dynamic research and development program. NASA has since released three editions of a publication, International Space Station: Benefits for Humanity, that offer a broad outline of how the station has facilitated the worldwide sharing of knowledge for the benefit of life on Earth, primarily through this research program: over 3,000 investigations conducted onboard so far, by more than 4,200 investigators from 108 different countries and areas. The benefits of these programs include new findings in technology development and innovation, Earth and space observations, disaster response, human health, plant biology, and bioregeneration. Technologies transferred directly from station operations have already provided some of the most obvious benefits. The system developed by NASA to recycle station wastewater into drinkable water, for example, has been adapted all over the globe into filtration


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Left: The Japanese Experimental Module (JEM) Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), in the grasp of the Kibo laboratory robotic arm, deploys a set of Nanoracks CubeSats in 2014. Nanoracks was the first private company to use the J-SSOD. Below: The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is photographed during grappling operations with the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station on May 25, 2012. Expedition 31 flight engineers Don Pettit and André Kuipers grappled Dragon and used the robotic arm to berth Dragon to the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony node. Dragon became the first commercially developed space vehicle to be and Japanese resupply craft that service the complex while restoring a U.S. capability to deliver cargo to the orbital laboratory.


The proliferation and refinement of technologies aboard the space station have helped bring about what Shireman believes to be the next big inflection point in the station’s history: the commercialization of low-Earth orbit.

Research partners in space include a growing number of private entities, collaborations that have provided the station with new or updated capabilities while opening new markets. Small businesses provide hardware and

NASA photo

systems that can provide drinkable water without the need for electrical power. The agency’s former lead engineer for air and water monitoring has since developed a free smartphone application, mWater, for checking the cleanliness of water sources. mWater is currently used by more than 25,000 government, nonprofit, and academic institutions in 147 countries. Canada’s expertise in robotics and imaging have inspired spinoff technologies for medicine and industry – including neuroArm, the first surgical robot capable of being guided by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. In May 2008, a Canadian surgical team completed the first surgical removal of a brain lesion with neuroArm. Other spinoffs include recently developed robotic digital microscopes that help neurosurgeons perform minimally invasive procedures – including surgeries for brain conditions otherwise considered inoperable – with greater safety and accuracy. The station’s Earth-imaging systems differ from other satellite-based systems, which typically use polar orbits. Imaging and remote-sensing technologies aboard the space station have helped tropical island communities to understand and manage changing reef ecosystems; monitored flooding and provided agricultural information to North American farmers; collected data on the depth and clarity of coastal waters and the characteristics of coastal seabeds; provided high-resolution images of the flooding caused by Japan’s 2011 tsunami; and improved climate models through better monitoring of ocean winds, clouds and atmospheric particulates, the ozone layer, lightning, forest canopies, and water content in vegetation.

NASA photo

launched to the station to join Russian, European,

Expedition 20 crewmembers give a thumbs up as they pose in “star-burst” formation for an inflight portrait in the Harmony node of the International Space Station in August 2009, marking the only time a member from every space agency partner has been onboard the station simultaneously for a long-duration increment. Pictured clockwise from the bottom (center) are cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, commander; and NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, and NASA astronaut Michael

NASA photo

Barratt, all flight engineers.

launch/flight support for space station experiments. Axiom Space, a company co-founded by Suffredini after his retirement from NASA, is building its own modules in preparation for the first private space station. Nanoracks became the first private company to use Japan’s JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) in 2013, and deployed 176 of its own CubeSats (miniaturized satellites for space research) from the station between 2014 and 2017. A total of 725 CubeSats were launched from the orbiting laboratory between 2012 to 2017, with a launch rate that increased an average of 66 percent annually. NASA’s transition from “cost-plus” to “fixed cost” contracts has stimulated the growth of these new companies and greater competition in the market – and resulted in the first commercial cargo and crew transports to the station. “When the shuttle retired,” Shireman said, “and we started flying all our cargo up on U.S. vehicles, that was a huge win for the partnership, because it was one of the first major inroads of commercialization in lowEarth orbit.” The growing number of private-sector partners has had a significant economic impact around the world. NASA estimates that the global space marketplace has more than doubled since 2006, to an estimate of more than $345 billion in value. The $33 billion in American aerospace exports NASA reported in 1995 has more than quadrupled, reaching $136 billion in 2019. ESA studies of the station’s economic impact have concluded that every 100 jobs in the space sector generate 90 additional jobs in the European economy, and the space station adds 210,000 jobs annually to the labor market. Those who have been aboard the station, or who have been involved in the space station program since its earliest days, have less tangible ideas about its benefit to humanity. “We have teenagers today, people 20 years old or younger, that never knew a time when

there weren’t humans in orbit,” Suffredini said. “I mean, that’s just amazing. All four of my kids don’t know anything but that there’s a space station and people in orbit. They just think that’s normal. And normalizing this is an important step. I think manufacturing in space and the advances we’re just starting to see, which will become more obvious later in our lives, will be part of the legacy of the International Space Station ... ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we’re going to look at how things have changed and say: ‘Wow, the ISS started all this.’” The intangible most likely to be mentioned by space station program insiders is the future value of the international partnership that created it. Retired NASA astronaut Ron Garan, who was a station crewmember for six months in 2011, vividly remembers the experience of looking down on both the space station and Earth while sweeping over the orbiting laboratory at the end of its long robotic arm, on his way to replacing a nitrogen tank. He’s since written three books about what he’s learned from his time in space, and speaks to audiences around the world. “I looked down at the space station and I realized 15 nations – some who’d fought wars against each other, two who were on opposite sides of the Cold War and the Space Race – somehow found a way to set aside our differences and do this amazing thing in space,” Garan recalled. “That happened because we jumped off from a foundation of awe and wonder, versus a foundation of fear ... The way to have progress in the world is to find the stuff that we agree on. And now we have this incredible platform, the International Space Station partnership, that can

be used as a jumping-off point to start addressing the things we don’t agree on.” To hear Garan talk about the space station is to understand why it was nominated in 2014 for a Nobel Peace Prize. Its nomination letter, sponsored by Space Safety magazine, read in part: “Visible in the night sky to all people on Earth, ISS is a beacon of peace and hope, and a model for international cooperation on Earth and in space.” The global commons now confronts predicaments related to climate, food security, energy, and disease – including, in the space station’s 20th year, a pandemic viral infection that had afflicted millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide within a matter of months. Solving these transnational issues will require multilateral partnerships between countries that endure regardless of politics. The world is full of skeptics who doubt these problems can be solved – but there are no pessimists among the people who designed, built, supported, or flew on the orbiting laboratory. They’ve made the preposterous an everyday reality. “For 20 years, we’ve had people living off the planet,” said Joel Montalbano, space station program manager. “And the fact that we could do that, and that we as a species are not bound to living on the surface of the planet, just shows you that greater things are possible. We, as a species, can do tremendous things when we partner with people from around the world, and the International Space Station is an example of that.” To learn more, visit:


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

International International space station SpaceElements Station International Space Station Facts • Over 240 individuals from 19 countries have visited the International Space Station. • The space station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. • An international crew of six people live and work while traveling at a speed of 5 miles per second, orbiting Earth about every 90 minutes. • In 24 hours, the space station makes 16 orbits of Earth, traveling through 16 sunrises and sunsets. • Peggy Whitson set the record for spending the most total time living and working in space at 665 days on Sept. 2, 2017. • The acre of solar panels that power the station means sometimes you can look up in the sky at dawn or dusk and see the spaceship flying over your home, even if you live in a big city. Find sighting opportunities at • The living and working space in the station is larger than a six-bedroom house (and has six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree-view bay window). • To mitigate the loss of muscle and bone mass in the human body in microgravity, the astronauts work out at least two hours a day. • Astronauts and cosmonauts have conducted 230 spacewalks (and counting!) for space station construction, maintenance, and upgrades since December 1998. • The solar array wingspan (240 feet) is about the same length as the world’s largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380. • The large modules and other pieces of the station were delivered on 42 assembly flights: 37 on the U.S. space shuttles and five on Russian Proton/Soyuz rockets. • The space station is 357 feet end-to-end, one yard shy of the full length of an American football field including the end zones. • Eight miles of wire connect the electrical power system aboard the space station. • The 55-foot robotic Canadarm2 has seven different joints and two endeffectors, or hands, and is used to move entire modules, deploy science experiments, and even transport spacewalking astronauts. • Eight spaceships can be connected to the space station at once. • A spacecraft can arrive at the space station as soon as four hours after launching from Earth. • Four different cargo spacecraft deliver science, cargo, and supplies: Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus, SpaceX’s Dragon, JAXA’s HTV, and the Russian Progress. • Through Expedition 60, the microgravity laboratory has hosted nearly 3,000 research investigations from researchers in more than 108 countries. • The station’s orbital path takes it over 90 percent of the Earth’s population, with S6 Integrated Truss Segment (ITS) astronauts taking millions of images of the planet below. Check them out at • More than 20 different research payloads can be hosted outside the station at once, including Earth sensing equipment, materials science payloads, particle physics experiments like the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02, and more. • The space station travels an equivalent distance to the Moon and back in about a day. • The Water Recovery System reduces crew dependence on water delivered by a cargo spacecraft by 65 percent – from about 1 gallon a day to a third of a gallon. • On-orbit software monitors approximately 350,000 sensors, ensuring station and crew health and safety. • The space station has an internal pressurized volume equal to that of a Boeing 747. • More than 50 computers control the systems on the space station. • More than 3 million lines of software code on the ground support more than 1.5 million lines of flight software code. • In the International Space Station’s U.S. segment alone, more than 1.5 million lines of flight software code run on 44 computers communicating via 100 data networks transferring 400,000 signals (e.g. pressure or temperature measurements, valve positions, etc.).


Service Module (SM)

Docking Compartment (DC-1)

Starboard Radia






P5 ITS Port Heat Rejection Subsystem (HRS) Radiator

Functional Cargo Block (FGB)

Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA) 1

ExPRESS Logistics Carrier (ELC) 3 P1 ITS


Port Photovoltaic Arrays


Starboard HRS Radiator Mini-Research Module (MRM) 1 Mobile Servicing System (MSS)



Bigelow Expandable Airlock Module (BEAM)

Node 3 Permanent MultiPurpose Module (PMM) Enhanced Integrated Boom Assembly (EIBA) S1 ITS

JEM Experimental Logistics Module Pressurized Section (ELM PS)

IDA 3 Cupola

ELC4 Node 1




External Stowage Platform (ESP) 2

JEM Exposed Facility (EF)

U.S. Lab

Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Pressurized Module (PM)

Node 2 Starboard Photovoltaic Arrays


Columbus Orbital Facility

International Docking Adapter (IDA) 2


International Space Station Size AND Mass • • • • • • • • •

Pressurized Module Length: 240 feet (73 meters) Truss Length: 357.5 feet (109 meters) Solar Array Length: 239.4 feet (73 meters) Mass: 925,335 pounds (419,725 kilograms) Habitable Volume: 13,696 cubic feet (388 cubic meters), not including visiting vehicles Pressurized Volume: 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic meters) With BEAM expanded: 32,898 cubic feet (932 cubic meters) Power Generation: 8 solar arrays provide 75 to 90 kilowatts of power Lines of Computer Code: approximately 1.5 million

Compiled from



International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence


hen NASA astronaut Cady Coleman approached the International Space Station in a Soyuz capsule on Dec. 17, 2010, she wasn’t a wide-eyed, awestruck fledgling. In previous missions aboard the space shuttle Columbia, she’d traveled 6 million miles in orbit. She knew as much about the station as anyone, and she’d spent years training as a contingency spacewalker – an astronaut ready to go outside the station to solve an unforeseen problem – submerged in the pool known as the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, servicing underwater replicas of station modules. Coleman, who retired from NASA in 2016, said the models were a little corroded and showing their age. “Everything was kind of worn and beaten,” she said. Astronauts often describe the experience of finally understanding something they thought they’d already known – and for Coleman this happened before she’d unfastened her Soyuz seatbelt. She’d seen the International Space Station in photos and videos, and on control room

NASA photo

Expedition 39 Commander Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) peers out of one of the windows of the cupola on the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. A crewmate inside the Pirs docking module recorded the image.


Left: NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Expedition 26/27 flight engineer, attired in a training version of her Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit, is submerged in the waters of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The rehearsal in the NBL was intended to help prepare Coleman for work on the exterior of the International Space Station. Below: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (left) and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (right) marked their 300th consecutive day aboard the International Space Station on Jan. 21, 2016. The pair spent a total of 342 days in space on their one-year mission to aid researchers in better understanding how the human body reacts and

NASA photo/Robert Markowitz

adapts to long-duration spaceflight.

consoles. But nothing had prepared her for the sight of the 12-year-old station through her spacecraft window: gleaming, spotless, as if it were brand new. “As our Soyuz approached,” she recalled, “here was this pristine, beautiful station. I just remember the delight of thinking: ‘Wow. I’m really here. This is it.’” This is it. Life aboard the space station is the pinnacle – literally and figuratively – of an astronaut’s or cosmonaut’s career, and it ends too soon: Station missions, called expeditions, typically last about three to six months, with anywhere from three to six crewmembers aboard at all times. American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko each spent nearly a year – 342 days – aboard the orbiting laboratory from 2015 to 2016, and astronaut Christina Koch was in orbit for 328 days, from 2019-2020. These months are the most thrilling of crewmembers’ lives – but they’re also somehow comfortingly familiar, resembling common human routines and offering surprising lessons and insights for living on Earth.

NASA photo

THE BODY IN SPACE Regardless if the astronaut’s mission is a first, or if they have been to space before, many say the microgravity environment of the station takes some getting used to. One of the first things astronauts notice is “fluid shift”: On Earth, gravity pulls body fluids downward; in space, they’re evenly distributed – though it looks and feels as if they’ve rushed to an astronaut’s head. Faces on the space station look puffier, as if they’re hanging upside down; legs are skinnier; stomachs are flatter. Many astronauts experience headaches, and their sinuses feel clogged. Some astronauts also experience space sickness, or “Space Adaptation Syndrome.” Michael Barratt, who began his NASA career


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence Left: European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Paolo Nespoli, STS-120 mission specialist, rests strapped in his sleeping bag in the Harmony node of the International Space Station in 2007. Today, crewmembers in the U.S. Orbital Segment sleep in sleeping bags tethered in crew quarters. Below: Astronaut C. Michael Foale, Expedition 8 mission commander and NASA ISS science officer, attired in instrumented biking tights, participates in the Foot/Ground Reaction Forces During Spaceflight (FOOT) experiment in the Destiny laboratory on the International Space Station. The Lower Extremity Monitoring Suit (LEMS), the cycling tights outfitted with 20 sensors, measured forces on Foale’s feet and joints and muscle activity while he went about his scheduled activities. Note that Foale’s feet are hooked under a handrail to


flicted. And of course, you don’t feel any weight in your joints.” The most severe symptoms pass after a few days, said Barratt, “and over the next several days to weeks, you transition from being a two-dimensional creature that walks on two legs to a three-dimensional creature that navigates freely in space. And that’s an astounding thing to see.” During this period of adjustment, astronauts learn to move gently

NASA photo

as an aerospace physician and flight surgeon before joining the astronaut corps, flew aboard the station for Expedition 19/20, in 2009. On the space station, Barratt said, there is no up or down, and the vestibular organs of the inner ear lose their cues. “There is no gravity pulling them down,” he said, “so the signal they send to the brain doesn’t coincide with the motion your body actually makes. Your brain is con-

and smoothly, with minimal effort, after a period of crashing into things. In an interview with The Washington Post last year, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei recalled launching himself to the ceiling simply by tapping a computer keyboard. To prevent too much bouncing around, the interior spaces of the station are equipped with handrails, under which astronauts often hook their feet to secure themselves. In anticipation of longer-term missions to Mars, Barratt and other space physicians continue to study the way the body adapts to space. Some of these changes appear harmless – the loss of about 15 percent of blood plasma volume in the first few days, for example, because it’s simply not needed – but others, such as a thickening optic nerve, a weaker immune system, and a loss of bone density, create the risk of debilitating short- and longterm consequences for space travelers. Coleman didn’t get sick after boarding the station, but confessed to a brief period of being what she called “space stupid”: She often caught herself gawking at her strange surroundings. “Say you’re reaching to turn on a switch,” she said, “but in the background something is kind of floating, or waving up and down. I think actually it’s a little bit harder to focus, especially on day one, because your brain is trying to process all those things.” Weightlessness isn’t the only thing that’s different aboard the station. Moving at 17,500 miles an hour (10 times faster than a speeding bullet), the station circles the Earth about every 90 minutes. Behind the thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere, sunrises flare and sunsets dim with bewildering speed, cycling the station through 45-minute periods of sunlight and darkness. To approximate a normal 24-hour Earth day, the

NASA photo

prevent unintended movement.

NASA photo

Above: From foreground to aft, Expedition 34 flight engineers Tom Marshburn of NASA and Roman Romanenko and Evgeny Tarelkin of Roscosmos, pictured in the Unity module of the International Space Station in March 2013, can’t hide their delight over the arrival of fresh food and supplies that were delivered by the SpaceX Dragon earlier in the day. Right: NASA astronaut Tim Kopra photographed his breakfast floating inside of the Unity module aboard the International Space Station in April 2016. In a Tweet, he remarked, “#Breakfast taco on #ISS: refried beans, shredded pork, pepperjack cheese, eggs, and salsa

NASA/Tim Kopra

on a tortilla. Awesome...”

lights aboard the station are dimmed for eight-and-a-half hours of nightly sleep time. In this peculiar environment, astronauts must meet their basic needs as human organisms: They need to sleep, eat, keep clean, and stay fit and healthy. Among these, only one seems to be easier in space: Opinions among station crewmembers vary, but most seem to think microgravity sleep is superior. Today, crewmembers in the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) sleep zipped into light sleeping bags, tethered to the wall of one of four phone booth-sized crew quarters in the Harmony (Node 2) module, which connects the American, European, and Japanese laboratories. Don Pettit, a veteran NASA astronaut who has been to the station twice, in 2002-2003 and again in 2011-2012, said: “Sleep was wonderful. All the little aches and pains that accumulate over time on Earth, those just go

away, because you don’t have the forces on your body that torque your shoulder around or tweak your neck when you’re sleeping.” Nicole Stott, a retired NASA astronaut who was aboard the station for six months in 2009, arrived with a chronic pain in her arm that went away after a few weeks in space. “That was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my life,” she said. “I would fall asleep and I did not wake up until either an emergency alarm or my watch alarm went off. And I woke up in the exact same position that I’d fallen asleep in.” Not surprisingly, there’s less agreement about space food. Barratt thought it was fine. “I’m probably not a good one to ask, because I eat everything,” he said. “We have five agencies, and a very strong international influence, and in my first long mission, we had a Japanese, a Belgian, a Canadian, two Russians, and

me. So we had food from all of these places. It was an international smorgasbord.” It’s a different kind of smorgasbord, though: vacuum-sealed in spoil-free plastic or foil pouches, often meant to be rehydrated and warmed in an oven. Fresh fruits and vegetables, or the occasional cheese or chocolate, arrive in cargo resupply craft, and are quickly consumed. Some astronauts report difficulty smelling or tasting food, or anything, while others, including Pettit, reported heightened senses, particularly of smell. In his Expedition 6 journals (still accessible on the NASA website), he recalled space itself having a very particular smell, “a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation” he compared to welding fumes. Rehydrating food – using water for anything, really – presents its own set of challenges. On the space station, water wants to accumulate in floating blobs; the salt and pepper used in space come in liquid form. Rehydrated food, Stott said, often resulted in smelly wet garbage. “We had an agreement as a crew,” she said, “that if you opened something up, you either needed to finish it, so it’s dry, or you need to share it with somebody. Because wet trash is gross.” This agreement was tested on the day astronaut Jeff Williams produced an enormous dill pickle that had been sent from home in a care package. “It was like the ones you see at 7-Eleven,” Stott said, “sealed in its own bag.” It wasn’t the kind of thing normally eaten aboard the station, and Williams and Stott and the other crewmates floated around the table of the Destiny


NASA photo

laboratory together, trying to figure out what to do with it. Nobody volunteered to suck all the pickle juice out of the bag, she said, so Williams decided to sop it up with a towel, which he hung up to be dried by the onboard air recirculators. “But oh, my gosh,” Stott said. “The entire station smelled.” Within minutes, she said, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, his nose crinkled, floated in from the Russian segment. “He said, ‘Jeff, what eez that?’” Astronauts use water to brush their teeth, bathe, and wash their hair, but they use rinsefree soap and shampoo, to avoid wasting water. More than 90 percent of the water used on the station – including sweat, respiration, and even urine – is recycled into drinkable water aboard the USOS. There are two space toilets on the station, in the Russian Zvezda and the U.S. Tranquility modules. Astronauts urinate into an anatomically compatible funnel that feeds directly into the water recycling system. Solid waste is collected in a drum-shaped toilet via vacuum fans, bagged, and transferred to a Russian Progress cargo vehicle, to join other trash that will be incinerated on atmospheric re-entry.

NASA photo

WORKING – AND PLAYING – ON THE ORBITING LABORATORY The space station is primarily a laboratory, and the astronauts are there to work. Every day, astronauts wake between 6:00 and 7:00 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), eat breakfast, and gather for the Daily Planning Conference to go over the day’s schedule with flight control teams on the ground. A typical workday begins at 8:00 a.m.; the first four hours of

Above left: View of the toilet compartment in the Zvezda Service Module of the space station. Above: NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 flight commander, exercises using the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) in the Tranquility node of the International Space Station.

the day are spent setting up, performing, and taking down experiments as assigned. There’s a brief lunch break at noon, followed by another five-and-a-half hours of experiment work. The loss of bone density, muscle mass, and cardiovascular efficiency that comes with microgravity requires constant exercise, and sometime within this workday, five to six days a week, each astronaut must exercise for at least two hours using equipment in the Tranquility (Node 3) module: the treadmill (elastic cords, fastened to the waist and shoulder, keep astronauts’ feet in contact with the belt); the stationary cycle (seatless, because there’s no sitting in space); and the Advanced Resistive

Exercise Device (ARED), which uses vacuum cylinders to imitate the free weights used on Earth. Cosmonauts use their own treadmill and cycle in the Russian segment, but visit the Tranquility gym to use the ARED. Pettit and Barratt, who both served on three- and six-member crews (Barratt, in Expeditions 19 and 20 in 2009, helped oversee the transition from three crewmembers to six), say daily rhythms and the overall feel of the workday changed substantially after the transition. Before 2009, as much as two-thirds of a crewmember’s workday might be spent on activities other than laboratory experiments, like exercise and station maintenance such as monitoring water and air quality, measuring noise levels, or cleaning filters. Once the station transitioned to six crewmembers, Barratt said, “that made a huge difference in the time available to do science.” The most exciting and challenging work on the space station often involves extravehicular activity – an EVA, or spacewalk, in which crewmembers work in pairs to install, maintain,


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence Left: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson floats through a tangle of cables inside the Columbus module aboard the International Space Station in December 2016 as she operates the Fluids System Servicer to refill coolant loops in multiple modules on the U.S. segment of the station. Since crew sizes increased from three to six in 2009, crewmembers are able to spend less time performing station maintenance and more time working on science. Below: NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, pictured during the STS-128 mission’s first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sept. 1, 2009. Stott participated in the six-hour, 35-minute spacewalk with astronaut John “Danny” Olivas


ammonia tank from the station’s truss and moved two experiments (the materials processing experiment, or MISSE, and the European Technology Exposure Facility, or EuTEF) from the exterior of the Columbus laboratory to the cargo bay of the shuttle Discovery. Stott confesses to not remembering a lot of details from those seven hours – “it’s like a blur,” she said, “one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done” – but a few stand out vividly, including the moment she exited the airlock. “You come out and you’re thinking: Oh, my gosh, the Earth really is 250 miles down. There is no bottom of the pool or crew of divers around you.” After

NASA photo

or repair objects on the station’s exterior. It’s demanding work; every hour spent in an EVA is preceded by several corresponding hours – often weeks’ and months’ worth – of preparation. Every moment of an EVA is scripted and rehearsed, both in virtual reality simulators and the NBL, and merely suiting up for a spacewalk is a painstaking process that often takes up to four hours. Not all crewmembers perform spacewalks, and those who do often describe them as their most memorable experiences. In their nearly seven-hour EVA on Sept. 1, 2009, Stott and John “Danny” Olivas removed an empty

getting over the initial shock of floating free in space, Stott also found that despite her hours of simulation and preparation, an EVA always involves some on-the-job training. “Some of the cues that I had built into my muscle memory for how I was going to move from the airlock to my first worksite were things in the pool, like cables that hung down that I had to get underneath and around. And in space they weren’t there,” she said. No Western astronaut has spent more time spacewalking than Michael López-Alegría, who performed five EVAs during Expedition 14 (2006-2007), during which he was the station commander. He conducted five other EVAs during space shuttle flights in 2000 and 2002 – for a total of 67 hours and 40 minutes, most of them spent assembling the station. His most technically difficult EVAs, he said, would be preceded by seven to 10 run-throughs in the NBL. “That of course doesn’t include all the training that you go through just to get to that point,” he said. “To get assigned and EVA proficient, there is a lot of training.” According to López-Alegría, who retired from NASA in 2012, every spacewalk introduces little surprises. “In space, nothing goes exactly as planned,” he said. “There are always sticky connectors, and thermal blankets are challenging. Everything is a little bit harder in space, with the exception of moving around.” During Expedition 20, Barratt performed a five-hour EVA with Padalka, preparing the Zvezda service module for the arrival of the Poisk module (Mini-Research Module 2, or MRM2). The pair also performed an IVA – an intra-vehicular activity – in the depressurized Zvezda. He replaced the module’s hatch with a docking cone to receive the Poisk on its arrival. “I think they expected us to take 45 minutes,” he said. “And we did it in 12 lousy minutes.” He felt a gut-punch of disappointment when he opened the hatch and saw the unattainable circle of space, just in front of

NASA photo

(out of frame).

Inside the station’s Harmony module in September 2015, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren (back) gives Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko (front) a haircut using a special set of clippers with a vacuum attachment to collect loose hairs in microgravity. Astronaut-cosmonaut interaction was a given in the space station’s early years, when the structure was smaller, but today the level of

NASA photo

interaction often depends on the crew.

him: “I think we were on the dark side, because I could see stars,” he said. “And every cell in my body wanted to go outside.” Barratt’s EVA, in the Russian segment, was commanded from Moscow. He wore a Russian Orlan spacesuit and communicated with Padalka and the ground crew in Russian. This is a little-known fact about astronauts assigned to the USOS: They must all learn to speak Russian, one of the station’s two working languages. Understanding Russian also helps to build fellowship among a crew that is usually at least one-third Russian. Cosmonaut/astronaut interaction was a fact of life during the early years of the space station, when both the station and crew were smaller. Now that both are larger and more dispersed, living and working in their respective spaces in a structure the size of a six-bedroom house, the level of interaction often depends on the crew. “We had one of the best crews,” Barratt said. All six ate lunch together in the Russian segment and dinner in the U.S. segment, nearly every day, for 199 days. “One person was designated to bring the iPod to the table with music,” he said. “If Roman Yurievich Romanenko, on the Russian side, brought it, you knew you were going to listen to heavy metal. And if I brought it, it was going to be Celtic rock.” While crewmembers are typically separated during the workday, performing their respective tasks in the Russian and U.S. Orbital

segments, there is ample opportunity in the evenings, and on Saturdays (when there’s a half workday) and Sundays – when, said LópezAlegría, “Everybody does their own thing. Some people spend a lot of time on the phone. Some people read. Some people watch movies. Some just look out the window ... We also had something called the task list, or job jar, kind of low-priority stuff that didn’t get scheduled during the week that we could do if we had the ambition.” Astronauts spend a good amount of their free time connecting with friends and family back home, via audio or video calls, email, or social media. Barratt, who is married with five children, spoke to his wife every day, and was often able to help his teenage kids with their homework. “We were a pretty close family at the start, and that’s really what made it all possible,” he said. “It’s hard on families, make no mistake.” Coleman’s crewmate, the Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, lost his mother to cancer while he was on the station, which left the rest of the crew wondering how to comfort him and help him through his grief. “I think it takes a certain generosity, on the part of the crewmate who has suffered that loss – whether they want their crewmates’ support or not – to make their crewmates feel comfortable with what they’re going through,” said Coleman. “Paolo really did that for us. We ended up observing his mom’s funeral together from the cupola window, at

the same time the funeral was happening on the Earth.” Coleman, an avid flautist, took four instruments to the station: her own flute, an antique flute and tin whistle belonging to Matt Molloy and Paddy Moloney of the Irish band The Chieftains, and a flute from Ian Anderson of the rock group Jethro Tull. She played each aboard the station, including the first space/ Earth duet, which she performed with Anderson – coincidentally, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s launch. Back on Earth, Coleman continues to play with Bandella, the group that made its name playing bluegrass, jazz, and folk-rock at a sandwich shop/roadhouse near the Johnson Space Center. Led by space-guitar god Chris Hadfield, the retired Canadian astronaut whose station-staged cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” so far has logged more than 47 million YouTube views, the band also features Coleman, retired NASA astronaut Steve Robinson (guitar, banjo, stand-up bass), Micki Pettit (the vocalist and Don Pettit’s wife), and their longtime friend Dave Webb (keyboards). Stott was responsible for another space station “first”: She took a set of watercolors and became the first astronaut to paint what she saw from the station window – the turquoise seas swirling around Los Roques, a chain of islands off the Venezuelan coast. Learning how to paint with water in microgravity was its own struggle, a story she’s told in writing and interviews. Stott has since combined her loves of art and space into the Space for Art Foundation, which connects children in hospitals, refugee centers, and schools around the world. There’s nothing special or quirky about playing a musical instrument or painting in space, Stott said; music and art have been in space for as long as people have been there. Given free time, people do what they love and express themselves in deeply personal ways. The world’s first spacewalker, Alexei Leonov, drew colored-pencil sketches of the view from his Voskhod 2 capsule in March 1965. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg (now retired) pieced together quilt blocks aboard the station. NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren played the bagpipes. “We’re not just working there,” said Stott. “We live there. If you aren’t a photographer


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before you get to space, you become one, because you want your face in front of that window and you want to remember it and share it with everyone. You want to put the ‘human’ in human spaceflight.”

Left: Nicole Stott is the first astronaut to have painted what she saw from the space station with watercolors. Right: From 220 miles above Japan, an Expedition 26 crewmember onboard the International Space Station took this 200 mm

Photo courtesy of Nicole Stott

NASA photo

view of the Sendai coast and southward on March


14, 2011, three days after the one-two punch of an

Stott’s urge to share what she saw from the orbiting laboratory springs from a desire to make more people aware of it. It’s often right above us, the second-brightest object in the night sky, hurtling overhead, and while there are plenty of tools to pinpoint it – including NASA’s own Spot the Station ( or smartphone apps – most terrestrials remain oblivious. Stott’s husband often jokes that ISS stands for “Invisible Space Station” – “and that crushes me every time I hear that. But it’s true. It’s like this unseen masterpiece,” she said. “I use art to share the experience, and to tell the story of how we’ve been working peacefully and successfully, these 15 different countries, for 20 years now – and just what a wonderful example that is of how we should be living like crew down here on Spaceship Earth.” Many crewmembers describe their time aboard the space station as a surprisingly Earth-oriented existence, for one that happens 250 miles above the planet. During the serene 25 minutes Stott rode the station’s robotic arm, guiding the bulky EuTEF into Discovery’s cargo bay, she said, she realized she was the farthest human being from the Earth. “But I felt so connected, as well, to everybody down on the planet below me, to my crewmembers inside, to the people in Mission Control.” In March 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan, the country’s space agency, JAXA, was forced to

hoped to help the country understand the scope

earthquake followed by a tsunami. Crewmembers of the disaster by sending images of the affected area taken from the station.

evacuate its control center in Tsukuba. According to Coleman, who was on the station that day, the crew became intently focused on waking at night, as the station passed over Japan, to see it and send images that might help the country understand the scope of the disaster: where the damage was and which areas had power. “It was really a way for us to say: ‘We see you. We know you’re there,’” Coleman said. Those with an eye to future space travel see these forces – both gravitational and emotional – as a mixed blessing. López-Alegría, who operates his own space consultancy, MLA Space, and is a vice president of the private aerospace company Axiom Space, sees it as a problem to be solved. The joy and magnificence of his space adventures were always couched in the knowledge that he would soon return to Earth. “It was an adventure. It was an experience. It was a dream come true,” he said. “But I’m not the guy who wants to go colonize space and not come back.” On the space station, he could call anyone he wanted, and he could go to the nearest window and see Earth anytime. “But when we start going to Mars,” he said, “I think that’s going to be very difficult. You can’t talk [to Earth] in real time.

You probably can’t see Earth – and if you can, it’s just one of many points of light out there in the black. I think it’s going to be a very, very different experience, and I don’t know how we prepare for that.” Don Pettit – who is helping NASA envision the lunar lander it hopes will be on the Moon by 2024 – seems ready to go right now. Venturing beyond low-Earth orbit, he said, will probably be hard, but in the way that embarking for the New World was hard for a generation of explorers and immigrants seeking something new and different. As an Expedition 6 science officer, Pettit was already anticipating life in space would alter the very minds of human beings, and introduce an era of explosive innovation and cultural change. “You see that story played out time and again as humanity spread across the Earth, and I think that story will repeat when we move more people off the planet,” said Pettit. “They’ll stay in the orbital environment, and they’ll move to planetary surfaces like the Moon and Mars. And as you have people growing up and living and working there, there will be things in those environments that will excite our thoughts into directions that nobody on Earth would have ever thought of – however, once you make these discoveries, once you make a paradigm shift, everybody on Earth will be able to understand.” It’s telling that someone as outward-looking as Pettit, when rhapsodizing about the innovations to come, can’t help but imagine how future lives in space will transform the way we live on our home planet. “We are all Earthlings,” Stott said. “The only border that matters is that thin blue line – and every single thing we do up there is ultimately about improving life here on Earth.”


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Like a Family Up There Planning on the ground keeps the International Space Station family on orbit.



he “International” in International Space Station (ISS) isn’t just a convenient descriptive handle. The space station has been a multilateral effort, relying on all of its constituent partners to stay aloft. Perhaps the most familiar example of this is the shift to sole source transport of ISS crew to the station. When the United States ceased flying the space shuttle in 2011, the international community would have had no crew access to the space station without Russian Soyuz spacecraft and rockets. That the availability of those rockets/vehicles to American, European, Japanese, and other space station partners was undiminished despite geopolitical tensions on the ground is proof that the most durable aspect of the station isn’t its hardware, software, or even science: It is the will of people from different nations to work together for a greater purpose. That will has endured throughout the life of the orbiting laboratory, as much a product of the values of the respective space station partners as of the strictures of space. “We share resources across the ISS for the benefit of everybody,” says NASA ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano. “To me, that’s the biggest benefit of the International Space Station. It’s like a family up there.”

MULTIPLE ELEMENTS, SPLIT 50-50 At first glance, the organization of station partners looks complex. NASA itself refers to the International Space Station enterprise as “the most politically complex space exploration program ever undertaken.” The orbital outpost is the largest space


station ever constructed, and it has been visited by astronauts from 19 countries and counting. But while the decision-making onboard and in support of the space station is decidedly collaborative, it is also focused among relatively few players. At the government level, it’s even more simple. Fifty percent of the ultimate decision-making lies with Russia and 50 percent with the United States. That reality is reflected aboard the station, where crews typically are split equally between Russian and American complements. Even though there’s essentially a Russian half and an American half of the station physically and organizationally, “you have to look at [the American half] as non-Russian. The U.S. [contingent] consists of the European, Japanese, and the Canadian contributions,” Montalbano said. Indeed, the American half comprises NASA’s contributions as well as those of its space station partners: Europe’s European Space Agency (ESA), Canada’s Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and Japan’s Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Despite the absence of nationalities besides American and Russian on the station in the first half of 2020, there is often at least one crewmember from the partner agencies and sometimes crewmembers of other nationalities. In the fall of 2019, there were nine people aboard the orbiting laboratory, as crews overlapped for a week at the end of September and beginning of October. Among them was Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first person from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to fly into space. He joined European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano as one of two non-American/non-Russian crew-

members. The largest population ever on the space station was in 2009, when there were 13 people on board. Astronauts of various nationalities are really the faces of partnership on the station, but they represent a much larger population of international operations crews; multiple launch vehicles; globally distributed launch, operations, training, engineering, and development facilities; communications networks; and the international scientific research community. These are the partners who make the space station work in practice. One of the reasons they’ve been able to work so well together, Montalbano affirms, is that their respective coordination and problem-solving is generally confined to the technical or scientific level. By staying outside the politics of their respective governments, participating space station space agencies focus on working with each other to make the station safe, habitable, and productive.

SHARING THE LOAD In the United States, space station training, program management, and mission control are done at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is home to the Payload Operations Center, which links earthbound researchers and scientists from around the world with their experiments and astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Opposite page: Nine crewmembers gather for a group portrait in the International Space Station’s Kibo laboratory in November 2013, documenting the first time since October 2009 that nine people had resided on the station without the presence of a space shuttle. Clockwise from top right are European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, Expedition 37 flight engineers; Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, Expedition 37 commander; Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy, and NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Expedition 38 flight engineers; Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, Expedition 38 commander; and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, Expedition 38 flight engineers. Crews aboard the space station are usually split equally between Russian and American complements, where the “American” half is more accurately described as “non-Russian,” as it typically includes personnel from NASA’s Canadian, European, and Japanese partner agencies.



Canadian Space Agency

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

By DLR German Aerospace Center - Columbus Control Center at DLR Oberpfaffenhoffen, CC BY 2.0,

Right: The European Space Agency’s Columbus Control Center, located in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, is responsible for command and control of the Columbus laboratory’s systems and for coordinating European research projects aboard the space station. Below left: The H-II Transfer Vehicle 2 (Kounotori 2) is pictured during media day at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tanegashima Space Center, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan, on Nov. 25, 2010. Below right: Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons participates in Canadarm2 robotics training at CSA headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec.

Ames Research Center, south of San Francisco, California, assesses and contributes to science and experimental projects on the station, including currently ongoing microbial tracking studies of space station crewmembers. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, supports key flight hardware, developing and operating the station’s Electrical Power System, Plasma Contactor Unit, and Photovoltaic Thermal Control System, among others. Glenn also provides space station environmental analysis and investigates propulsion system safety. When SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launched in late May 2020, launch control at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida returned to overseeing crewed flights to the space station from the United States. The Russian complement to Kennedy Space Center is Roscosmos’ Russian Launch Control at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. From July 2011 until SpaceX’s DM-2 mission in May 2020, every crewed flight to the space station launched from Baikonur. Russian mission control for the space station, sometimes called Mission Control Moscow, is centered at Korolev, near Moscow, and functions similarly to mission control at Johnson Space Center. Training of Russian cosmonauts for the space station takes place at the Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, outside of Moscow. North of the U.S. border at the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, Canada, control of and training for the space station’s Mobile Servicing System (MSS) is undertaken. An automated system that moves equipment around the station, services instruments and payloads, and is used for external maintenance, the MSS is best known for its robotic arm, commonly referred to as the “Canada Arm” or Canadarm. In Tsukuba, Japan, mission control for JAXA’s Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) is exercised. JEM is the largest single space station module, a pressurized laboratory in which up to four astronauts can perform experiments. H-II Launch Control at Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan is

the secondary launch control site for JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle unmanned orbital carrier, which can deliver up to 6 tons of goods to the space station in orbit and dispose of materials and equipment from the station. The European Space Research and Technology Center is the ESA’s main technology test and development arm, located in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The ESA’s Columbus Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, operates the ESA’s Columbus laboratory and coordinates European experiments. The European Astronaut Center, located near Cologne, Germany, manages astronaut selection and training for space station missions, as well as medical support and surveillance. ESA also maintains an Ariane launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. Together, these space agencies and field centers keep the mechanics of the station running smoothly. They provide logistics and training, and they have a voice in crucial mission and experiment planning.

WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER Almost every activity, every daily evolution on the space station is planned. Plans may

cover something as mundane as the crew schedule, as exciting as an extravehicular activity or spacewalk, or as vital as emergency response. Among the most thoroughly planned evolutions are the research and experimental activities conducted on board by space station international participants. Before a research project ever gets to the orbiting laboratory, it’s coordinated among NASA and its partner space agencies. Montalbano explains that the process for new research projects typically begins two years prior to an experiment reaching the space station. And if you’re wondering whether different partners have proposed doing the same or similar experiments, you’re right. It’s happened a number of times. NASA and its partners try to iron out any duplication of effort early on. If a principal investigator in Japan is considering developing capability X and an investigator in Europe, Canada, or the United States is considering the same capability, station managers bring the investigators together to see if one partner can work one portion of the project while the second investigator concentrates on a different aspect.


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Left: Expedition 52 flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA is seen inside the Soyuz simulator during his final Soyuz qualification exam on July 7, 2017, at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Below left: NASA astronaut Anne McClain checks out Astrobee, a free-flying robotic assistant that could save the crew time by performing routine maintenance duties and providing additional lab monitoring capabilities, on April 30, 2019. McClain unpacked the first Astrobee robot – named Bumble – in the Kibo module of the International Space Station and worked with Astrobee’s team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley to complete an initial series of tests to verify that the robot’s subsystems were


“If you have a payload that requires a certain power level or requires two crewmembers versus one crewmember, or different heating levels,” Montalbano said, “all that has to be accounted for and scheduled.” Space station managers pull together input from all partners in planning a research project. Eight months or so before the launch date, plans for upcoming crew requirements are refined. “There has to be extensive coordination across all the international partners to make sure that when an experiment is planned, we have the resources and capability on board to implement it,” Montalbano said. There are Russian, American, European, and Japanese laboratories aboard the space station, and while they’re separated, they aren’t separate. “It doesn’t mean that Russians only work in their lab or Europeans in their lab. A European astronaut may work in the Japanese segment, a Japanese in the Russian lab, or a Russian will do work in the U.S. lab,” Montalbano said. “The

INSPIRING AND KEEPING THE BEAT Millions of global citizens know the space station through its educational outreach efforts. For two decades, astronauts and cosmonauts have spoken to children around the world from their low-Earth orbit perch. “Our astronauts love to do it. Any time they can talk to a classroom and explain

NASA photo

“For example, you could have a Japanese principal investigator working on hardware in Japan, an American working on other hardware in the U.S., and in orbit, you could have a European actually doing the experiment,” Montalbano said. Results and data from coordinated projects are shared across all principal investigators so all benefit. But there are instances in which various space agencies with national priorities will pursue research or an experiment even if it is duplicative. “That happens from time to time,” Montalbano admitted. More often, planning centers on making sure necessary resources are in place to support an experiment before it is flown. The process includes identifying what sort of hardware will be required on orbit and when it might be transported. With a logistics “tail” at least 250 miles long – the distance back to the Earth’s surface – forgetting to pack anything is potentially debilitating. As the launch date gets closer, more details are confirmed.

benefit of the International Space Station is that while we have the [various] distributions, everybody works together.” One of the fruits of working together is that the principal investigators of an experiment frequently seek input from crewmembers from partner agencies who worked on the project. For example, a NASA astronaut who operated a portion of a Japanese experiment will likely be consulted in the development of published research by the Japanese investigator. “One of the cooler things is that often we set up the astronauts to talk directly with the principal investigator,” Montalbano affirmed. If a primary investigator back on Earth sees something a partner agency crewmember is doing in an experiment, they can ask what the astronaut or cosmonaut did to get a certain result. NASA puts investigators in touch in real time so they can talk directly to the crew person who is running the experiment. As researchers on the ground refine their post-project analyses, they also have the opportunity to reach back through NASA’s Astronaut Office to get in touch with crewmembers who have returned from space to ask additional questions or get comments. The process extends across the partnership. “If we have questions,” Montalbano said, “we can reach out to the European Space Agency and talk to Luca Parmitano, who just [returned from 201 days in orbit in February 2020], for example.”

NASA/Bill Ingalls

working properly.

Dean Sumith/CC BY-SA (

Above: A flight suit prototype for the Indian Space Research Organization displayed at the 6th Bangalore Space Expo, held Sept. 6-8, 2018. Different countries around the world are taking steps to become more involved in spaceflight; India expects to fly its own astronauts in the near future. Above right: Expedition 60 flight engineer Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency (ESA) is seated inside ESA’s Columbus laboratory module wearing virtual reality goggles exploring how microgravity affects an astronaut’s ability to grip and manipulate objects. NASA can put investigators on the ground in touch with station crewmembers carrying out their experiments for real-time discussions, and through its Astronaut Office, it can connect researchers with crewmembers who have returned from space so they can ask additional questions or get comments as

NASA photo

they refine post-project analyses. Right: NASA astronauts, from left, Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei, and Scott Tingle talk to high school students and teachers who linked up to the International Space Station during a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) event from Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, in February 2018. Space station crewmembers often speak about their work on the station with students on Earth, regardless of where in the world those

NASA photo

students’ classrooms may be.

what we do on orbit, how we work together, the challenges we have operating in space – identifying the successes and problems – it pays dividends.” But space station crewmembers don’t just address classrooms full of kids from the countries from which they came. They impart the same enthusiasm and information regardless of where the audience is located. “There have been times where we’ve had U.S astronauts talking to Russian schoolchildren, to

schoolchildren in Europe, Japan, and Canada, absolutely,” Montalbano said. The other space station partners do the same. While offering inspiration to the young, the space station has been just about the only game in town for human spaceflight over the last decade. Montalbano acknowledged that when NASA retired the space shuttle, it picked up the intensity of its support of the space station. Keeping the beat with respect to a human presence in space across an international partnership has yielded considerable published research, notable experiments, and advanced scientific understanding. It has also kept people looking outward. “It’s like a magnet,” Montalbano said. “The work we do on ISS draws people from across the globe.” Interest in spaceflight in India has risen to the level that the subcontinent expects to fly its own astronauts soon. Australia is

taking steps to become a bigger spaceflight player, and the Johnson Space Center has been collaborating with the Mexican Space Agency. “They’re not going to be developing a human spaceflight rocket any time soon,” Montalbano said, “but they’re learning and taking what we do on the International Space Station and using it to inspire people in their country.” Given all that’s gone on in the world in the 20 years since the first crew inhabited the orbiting laboratory, do people express surprise that the space station exemplifies international cooperation in a way that even the United Nations can’t match? “There are people who are surprised,” the station’s program manager said. “Eventually the space station will go away, but for years to come, people will be writing about the ISS and how we worked together. It’s a model.”



NASA photo

International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence


The International Space Station: The greatest science show in the universe BY CRAIG COLLINS


efore humans had taken up permanent residence aboard the International Space Station (ISS), science was there. The first space station module entered orbit in 1998 with an experiment payload – an investigation evaluating the growth of protein crystals in microgravity – that has since helped investigators treat diseases and disorders on Earth. In the 1990s, after all the space station international partnerships had been formalized and the station’s first building blocks were being produced with Congress’ approval, NASA issued a public announcement of the new space station’s missions. First among them:

Opposite page: European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, Expedition 40 flight engineer,

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conducts a session with the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE-2) in the Harmony node of the International Space Station in June 2014. CFE is a suite of fluid physics experiments that investigate how fluids behave in microgravity, which could benefit water and fuel delivery systems on future spacecraft. Scientists designed the CFE-2 to study properties of fluids and bubbles inside containers with a specific 3-D geometry. Right, top: The Destiny laboratory, partially covered with shadows in the foreground, is seen in this photo taken through a window on space shuttle Endeavour’s aft flight deck in December 2001, while the International Space Station (ISS) was still under construction. The U.S. Orbital Segment of the space station was designated a U.S. National Laboratory in 2005. It includes three ISS laboratory facilities: NASA’s Destiny, the European Space Agency’s Columbus module, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agengy’s Kibo module. Right: NASA flight engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor floats in the Destiny laboratory module in June 2018 with gear from an investigation into how blood cell production is altered in microgravity, the results of which may improve the health of astronauts on long-term

NASA photo

missions and help patients on Earth with mobility and aging issues. Scientific research conducted on the space station not only helps to improve life on Earth, but aids in plans for future long-term space exploration.


Left: NASA astronaut and Expedition 61 flight engineer Christina Koch works on the Cold Atom Lab (CAL), swapping and cleaning hardware inside the quantum research device, on Jan. 28, 2020. The CAL enables research into the quantum effects of gases chilled to nearly absolute zero, which is colder than the average temperature of the universe. Below: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir cuts mizuna mustard green leaves grown aboard the International Space Station for the VEG-04B space agriculture study on Oct. 30, 2019. The botany research is helping scientists NASA photo

learn how to provide fresh food to space crews on long-duration missions. The Expedition 61 crewmembers also tasted the leaves for edibility and stowed the leftovers in a science freezer for scientific analysis.

fusion, a U.S. nonprofit, has developed an ISS Map of Science to illustrate the interdisciplinary flow of knowledge stimulated by space station research. The map shows connections among fields as diverse as brain research and social sciences; medical and biological sciences; and engineering, math, chemistry, and physics – a scope unequaled by any research facility, anywhere.

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“To create a permanent orbiting science institute in space capable of performing long-duration research in the materials and life sciences areas in a nearly gravity-free environment.” In the 22 years since its first experiment reached orbit, the space station has quietly compiled an exceptionally deep and broad record of scientific research. As of summer 2020, 4,269 researchers from 108 different countries and areas had conducted more than 3,000 investigations. NASA’s primary goals for space station research are twofold: first, to answer questions and solve problems related to the agency’s future space exploration goals, and second, to improve life on Earth. To strengthen its Earth focus, NASA’s 2005 authorization designated the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) of the space station a National Laboratory. When it selected the nonprofit Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the ISS U.S. National Laboratory in 2011, it was with

an explicit focus on space research aimed at improving life on Earth. According to Dr. Kirt Costello, chief scientist for NASA’s ISS Program, these two missions operate in parallel, with procedures and processes to avoid overlap: The selection process for National Laboratory research, he said, “is a combination of the commercial developers’ own efforts within the National Lab to fund and select some research, and then stimulate other governmental agencies and commercial providers to bring forward research to perform on the ISS.” Meanwhile, NASA directorates and divisions identify their own research priorities – all of which are discussed through the ISS Program Science Forum – U.S., a group made up of senior science representatives from across these research sponsors. While most National Laboratories are focused on a specific scientific area, the space station National Laboratory is uniquely multidisciplinary. The Center for Knowledge Dif-

There are several factors – including the station’s orbital path, the technology required to operate and maintain it, and the considerable amount of its surface area exposed to space – that make the space station valuable as a research platform, but probably its most distinguishing trait is its status as a habitable long-duration microgravity environment. This distinction has contributed to the benefit of humanity – to our knowledge of life both on Earth and in space – in many fields of scientific research, including: u PHYSICAL SCIENCE

The force of gravity – along with the processes associated with it, such as sedimentation, buoyancy, and convection (heat rises, cold sinks) – dominates all we know about objects and materials: how water behaves; how fire burns; or how materials such as metal alloys, composites (e.g., concrete), or fibers are formed. In the microgravity of the space station, different forces and physical properties take precedence. For fluids, surface tension becomes the most important factor. In space, bubbles stubbornly refuse to separate out from liquids. Earthbound methods of controlling flows present challenges for functions such as propellants, thermal control,


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Right: Expedition 57 flight engineer Serena Auñón-Chancellor is pictured on Nov. 9, 2018, mixing protein crystal samples to help scientists understand how they work. Proteins crystallized in microgravity are often higher in quality than those grown on Earth, and present opportunities for the development of new drugs to treat disease. Below: NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir conduct research operations inside the Japanese Kibo Lab Module’s Life Sciences Glovebox. The Expedition 61 flight engineers were studying mice for the Rodent Research-14 investigation, which observes how microgravity

u BIOLOGY/BIOMEDICINE/ BIOTECHNOLOGY Space station researchers are studying the effects of spaceflight – of near-weightlessness and of direct exposure to space – on the growth, development, and evolution of plants,


animals, and living tissues. Astrobiology experiments have involved direct exposure of dormant life forms to space, including solar UV light, vacuum, and radiation. Some organisms are capable of withstanding up to 18 months of direct exposure. Studies of plant growth aboard the space station are primarily aimed at developing food production systems for the station and long-duration exploration missions. The results have helped investigators learn which processes are earthbound and which aren’t – for example, root growth patterns – and suggested ways future growers can either adapt or genetically modify plants to thrive and produce food in space. Studies have also shown that at least four successive generations of higher plants (complex plants with vascular systems, such as greens and vegetables) can grow in spaceflight conditions, suggesting the possibility that greenhouses are

potential human life support systems during long-term exploration missions. Researchers continue to investigate microgravity’s effects on the unusual protein crystals that can be formed in space. Proteins are responsible for a wide range of biological functions, and understanding their shape is key to understanding how they interact with cellular structures and pharmaceuticals. To study proteins, scientists let them form crystals in their natural state – dissolved in liquid, much as they’re found in living organisms. On Earth, this process is subject to sedimentation, but on the orbiting laboratory, Costello explained, “You remove the buoyancy-driven convection and the settling that occurs, so you have a much slower and much purer crystallization of proteins.” Using space station-grown crystals, for example, scientists have formulated a drug that targets a specific location on a protein involved in Duchenne

NASA photo

and waste management. Space station fluid studies have contributed to better models for designing microgravity fluid systems on future spacecraft. In the absence of processes such as sedimentation and buoyancy, space station investigators have produced metal alloys and optical fibers far superior to those produced on Earth. One of the experimental platforms Costello is most excited about is the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), an instrument being built and upgraded aboard the station to create extremely cold conditions – near-absolute zero – in microgravity, leading to the formation of a “fifth” state of matter: ultra-cooled atoms known as Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) that behave not as particles, but as quantum waves that can, over time, overlap with neighboring atoms. The BECs that evolve on Earth are pulled down by gravity and can only be observed for a fraction of a second, but in microgravity, they can be observed for up to 10 seconds. “We’re trying to understand how particles behave on the most basic of scales and what new devices or techniques we could learn from this,” Costello said. “Presuming you can get them down to temperature and then carefully interrogate them, you can use the interference patterns of atoms to tell you about very sensitive changes in their position and movement. And these can be used as math measurement devices, gravitational detector devices, and other navigational units that NASA has an interest in, for being able to do interplanetary and maybe someday interstellar navigation, where you don’t have a GPS or other system to help you out.”

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affects the body on a cellular and organ level.

NASA photos

Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), an incurable genetic disorder. Studies of animal models have suggested this new drug may be able to double the lifespan of people with DMD. Animal models – studies of mice and rats in space – have helped investigators evaluate the physiological, muscular, and skeletal effects of microgravity, as precursor research to discovering drugs and other therapies to counteract some of these effects. Additionally, a series of investigations recently launched by the National Institutes of Health is studying microgravity’s effects on the growth of three-dimensional, human-like tissues. Known collectively as Tissue Chips in Space, the investigations will study the effects of microgravity on bio-printed tissue samples that model the structure and function of human organs such as the lungs, bones, and liver.

Left and right: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (pictured at left on the space station) and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly (pictured at right on Earth) give themselves flu shots for an ongoing study on the human immune system. The vaccinations, administered in the fall of 2015, were part of NASA’s Twins Study, a compilation of multiple investigations that took advantage of a unique opportunity to study identical twins Scott and Mark Kelly, while Scott spent a year aboard the International Space Station and Mark remained on Earth. A summary of the study’s results was published in 2019. Below: The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), photographed during a spacewalk by NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson in January 2017. The AMS, a powerful magnet that has detected particles that support the existence of dark matter, is helping scientists to answer questions about fundamental cosmology and the formation

NASA photo


of the universe.

joined the astronaut corps in 2000, and lived on the space station from spring to fall of 2009 as a flight engineer for Expedition 19/20. “We became aware, in the first few years of station flight, that people were coming back with changes in their retinas and optic nerves, and really in various parts of their brains,” he said. His 2009 mission helped to capture onboard scans of astronauts that revealed more detail: thickening of retinas and optical nerves, and “brain shift,” or the repositioning of a person’s brain inside their skull – all most likely caused by fluids migrating into the head and increasing cranial pressure. Later studies have revealed that these brain changes are more pronounced among those who stay in space the longest. The subject of probably the most fascinating study of spaceflight’s effect on the human body, the NASA Twins Study, is Scott Kelly, the astronaut who, along with cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, spent nearly a year (340 days)

The most effective way of studying the rapid changes microgravity causes in the human body – many of which resemble the onset and progression of aging-related diseases on Earth – is to study humans themselves. Space station astronauts aren’t just the lab technicians who help conduct experiments; they’re often the subjects. Research on the effects of long-term space exposure on the human body, including bone-density loss, muscle atrophy, and vision impairment, have given investigators an idea of the future risks, such as fractures or difficulties with balance or movement, that might be associated with interplanetary voyages. NASA astronaut Michael Barratt began his NASA career as an aerospace physician in 1991,


aboard the orbiting laboratory from 2015 to 2016. Because Kelly has an identical twin brother – retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly – who offered a control subject, 10 research teams from around the country studied the physiological, molecular, and cognitive changes associated with Scott’s long-term spaceflight exposure. A summary of Twins Study results was published in the journal Science in April 2019. Some of the findings, particularly those relating to changes in chromosome shape and gene expression, have been surprising, and provided a jumping-off point for new studies. For some of the space-related physiological changes discovered in the early space station years, such as bone-density loss, investigators have already discovered effective countermeasures, such as vitamin D supplements and strenuous resistance exercise, that can counteract them. These discoveries will be important not only for the health of future long-term explorers, Barratt said, but also for the private astronauts now poised to take flight. “We’re on the cusp of a new wave of commercial spaceflight,” he said, “where nonprofessional astronauts will be flying. We need to characterize changes like this so that the flying public understands what to expect, how to prepare, how to monitor and manage, and how to maintain optimal health with spaceflight.”

An image depicting OCO-3’s first preliminary solar-induced fluorescence (SIF) – the glow plants emit from photosynthesis, in which they capture carbon from the atmosphere – measurements over western Asia, taken in July 2019 while instrument calibration was still being completed after the observatory’s launch in May. Areas with lower photosynthesis activity are shown in light green and areas with higher photosynthesis activity are shown in dark green, which correlate with areas of low and high vegetation, respective-


ly. OCO-3 measurements help quantify carbon u EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE

dioxide levels on Earth, and, in conjunction

Two hundred and fifty miles above the planet, the space station offers a unique vantage point for collecting space and Earth science data. Its high-resolution imagery and remote-sensing equipment capture details – of agricultural land, glaciers, forests, cities, oceans, and coral reefs – that can be layered with other data sources, on station or gathered by other satellites, to assemble a comprehensive view of Earth systems. For example, measurements from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-3), a NASA instrument mounted on the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Exposed Facility, help to quantify carbon dioxide levels in terrestrial and ocean ecosystems, as well as from human industrial sources. Combined with near-simultaneous observations from other space station instruments, such as the ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment (ECOSTRESS), a radiometer that measures plant temperatures in specific locations, and the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), a full-waveform LIDAR (laser scanner) that provides high-resolution observations of the vertical structure of forests, OCO-3 will offer the fullest picture yet of the interaction between humans and their terrestrial ecosystems. Other radiometric sensor

with observations from other space station instruments, will provide the fullest picture yet of the interaction between humans and terrestrial ecosystems.

data enables scientists to determine changes in soil moisture, vegetation cover, and surface salinity of oceans. The space station also houses several powerful instruments for studying the universe. X-ray imaging has revealed several new black hole candidates and transient events such as pulsars, stellar flares, and hypernovas. One of the most significant space observation instruments aboard the station, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), was mounted on the space station in 2011. The AMS, developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), is a powerful magnet that has detected billions of cosmic ray particles, including particles that support the existence of dark matter. Dark matter is a difficult concept to explain, because even though astrophysicists believe it makes up 85 percent of the matter in the universe, they don’t know what it is, or whether it really exists. It’s been hypothesized since the

1930s, but has never been directly observed because it doesn’t emit heat or reflect light, and it’s not composed of protons and neutrons, like other matter. The AMS has detected many electrons, and their antimatter counterparts, positrons – and it’s detected more positrons than electrons, which confirms the existence of antimatter and supports the idea that positrons are formed by collisions of particles we can’t see: dark matter. Many astrophysicists believe this to be the most important physics discovery made aboard the orbiting laboratory – though it’s arguably more of an anti-discovery. “The way theoretical astrophysics works,” said Costello, “is people put out theories, and the bad ones are thrown out until only a few remain.” The AMS is an instrument designed to challenge theories – including the Big Bang Theory, which holds that matter and antimatter exist in equal amounts in the universe. “We don’t see that. We see only a tiny presence of antimatter,” said Costello. “The AMS is really trying to answer some questions about fundamental cosmology and the formation of the universe.”

COMMERCIALIZING SPACE STATION RESEARCH When the USOS was made a U.S. National Laboratory in 2005, it was with the intent to maximize the use of its research capabilities by other federal agencies and the private sector. Over the past decade or so, space station research has evolved – sometimes slowly – from studies funded almost solely by government into investigations by private-sector partners in a growing number of fields. Marybeth Edeen manages the ISS Research Integration Office, which oversees the integration of experimental payloads to be delivered to


NASA astronaut Nick Hague with Techshot, Inc.’s Bio-Fabrication Facility (BFF) aboard the International Space Station. In March 2020, the bioprinter was used to create test prints of human tissue – knee cartilage – on the orbiting laboratory. Research projects in the microgravity of the space station funded by private-sector partners harness the facility’s potential as a platform for developing

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or improving products or processes.

the space station. Much of her recent focus, she said, has been on validating the use of space research for commerce. “As we move more and more toward a commercialized low-Earth orbit ... we want to facilitate relationships with businesses and commercial organizations, and help them take advantage of the station not just to perform research, but to make money.” There’s a difference in these types of research, Edeen said: “Government research tends to be more fundamental, first principles: How do flames burn in space? How do solids, liquids, and gases behave? If we look at mixtures of liquids and particles, colloids, how do they separate? The research done by commercial companies is what I’ll call ‘applied.’ It’s more focused on improving a product or a process.” One of the station’s oldest private-sector research partners, Procter & Gamble, has spent the last 15 years improving its soft-matter products, such as detergents, fabric softeners, and deodorants, by studying fluid separation in microgravity and formulating better stabilizers. A growing number of companies are exploring the space station’s potential as a platform for developing or improving products, such as high-quality optical fibers and high-speed turbine blades made of strong metal alloys. Several pharmaceutical companies are paying the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to conduct protein crystal research. Through a CASIS-organized initiative, the Cotton Sustainability Challenge, Target Corporation is

funding a study known as TIC-TOC (Targeting Improved Cotton Through Orbital Cultivation). TIC-TOC’s orbital studies of cotton growth will be aimed at developing more stress resistant, water efficient, and sustainable cotton. A new field of materials research – three-dimensional bioprinting of human tissues or organs – is opening up on the space station as the technology matures. It’s harder to print these materials on Earth, Edeen said, because gravity tends to put strain on their structures as they’re being made. In March 2020, the commercial space company Techshot, Inc., manufactured test prints of a partial human meniscus – knee cartilage – for evaluation by their customer, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The company’s bioprinter, the Bio-Fabrication Facility, was the first of its kind aboard the orbiting laboratory, launched to the station in July 2019. The focus of the Research Integration Office, Edeen said, is on these kinds of applications – things that can’t be made anywhere else. “It’s never going to be cheaper to make products in space that you can make on the ground,” she said. “We’re trying to develop what we call sustainable, scalable demand for microgravity.”

“A LOT OF DISCOVERIES LEFT” Meanwhile, there are still plenty of questions remaining to be answered for NASA and its space station partners. Last fall, NASA’s inspector general released a report

identifying technology gaps and human health risks that need to be more fully researched – and that will take years to complete, meaning that even minor scheduling setbacks could push their completion beyond the station’s retirement date. Fortunately, the agency’s Commercial Crew Program is on the brink of greatly expanding the ability to conduct research aboard the USOS: The SpaceX capsule that launched to the station on May 30, 2020, delivering astronauts to the orbital outpost from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011, will carry four passengers on NASA-contracted missions. Increasing the available lab technicians from three to four, Edeen said, will have an outsized effect on the amount of research time available, increasing from about 40 hours of total crew time a week to at least 68. The prospect of sending private astronauts to the station, also, will continue a trend toward using crewmembers less as lab technicians and more as research partners. “If a company has very specific objectives, and they want to put their expert on board to run some sort of experiment, they could do that,” she said. “We do foresee that, more and more, we’ll see commercial activity – maybe several companies will get together and fly one super researcher aboard, and he’ll perform a bunch of different investigations.” It’s likely that decades will pass, long after it has been de-orbited, before we’re able to fully comprehend the impact of the orbiting laboratory’s thousands of scientific studies. Costello thinks we’re not even close to a glimmer of that realization. “We may have finished 20 years of performing investigations on ISS, but we’re really just getting started,” he said. “We’re eagerly awaiting the Commercial Crew Program to get us up to four-crew status, and to be able to do all of the research that we have built up and cued up and ready to go. We’ve got a lot of discoveries left in this program.” To learn more, visit:


The SpaceX Crew Dragon approaches the International Space Station on May 31, 2020, with its nose cone open, revealing the docking mechanism that would connect to the Harmony module’s forward International Docking Adapter. Astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program were aboard, having launched a day earlier on the Demo-2 mission, which was designed to test and validate SpaceX’s crew transportation system – from launch to in-orbit, docking, landing, and recovery operations. Hurley and Behnken returned to Earth in a splashdown on Aug. 2, after spending two months aboard the station. The mission marked the first time a commercial company

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launched astronauts into space.


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence


SPACE TAXIS NASA’s Commercial Resupply and Crew programs open a new frontier for private enterprise. BY CRAIG COLLINS


n the morning of July 21, 2011, when the space shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center just before six o’clock, it was the end of a 30-year era that had begun with the program’s maiden flight in 1981. The world had never seen anything like the space shuttle orbiter, a reusable spaceplane that could fly into orbit and back. Able to haul more than 15 tons to a height of up to 350 miles above Earth, the shuttle was the only vehicle that conceivably could have conveyed the International Space Station’s (ISS) 4-meter-long modules to their new homes in orbit. Thirty years of crewed shuttle flights had been an era of triumph (355 individuals from 16 countries, and more than 3.5 million pounds of cargo, ferried into orbit) and tragedy (the loss of 14 astronauts, and the orbiters Challenger and Columbia, to accidents in 1986 and 2003, respectively). Thirty years is a long time to rely on a single spacecraft; the only older vehicle is the Russian Soyuz capsule – which has undergone numerous upgrades since rolling off the line in 1966. In anticipation of the shuttle era’s end, NASA officials began formulating plans for new vehicles long before the retirement

of the fleet. In the 1980s, when ideas for a space station began percolating at the agency, the administration of President Ronald Reagan envisioned a platform that would commercialize space and open up a multibillion-dollar market in low-Earth orbit (LEO). The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 was aimed, in part, at authorizing and enabling private entrepreneurs to develop rockets and satellites, and to operate their own launch sites and services. However, private companies initially preferred a lower-risk approach, sticking to applications where they could use publicly owned hardware to get their own products – typically, microsatellites or scientific experiments – into space. Through NASA’s Centers for the Commercial Development of Space initiative begun in 1985, and the Centers for the Commercial Development of Space that it established, private companies were able to send payloads into space on the shuttle and on Spacehab, a transport module developed by commercial entrepreneurs that bolted into the cargo bay of a shuttle orbiter. Still, there was no sustained privatesector effort to create new systems for space transport. After the loss of Columbia

NASA/Bill Ingalls

Space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) touches down at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) in Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Thursday morning, July 21, 2011, completing its 13-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program. In the years leading up to the shuttle’s retirement, NASA and its international partners began to develop new systems, programs, and partnerships to transport crews and cargo into space.


NASA photo

and its crew in 2003, NASA grounded the shuttle fleet while its engineers investigated the cause of the accident. For more than two years, the crew of the space station was reduced from three people to two; and though work had begun on both the European Space Agency (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) cargo vessels in the early 1990s, the only cargo vehicle available was the Russian Progress spacecraft, a modified Soyuz that could only carry enough supplies for two crewmembers. Space station partners understood that new launch, crew, and cargo vehicles were key to a more sustainable – and less expensive – future for the orbital outpost. The postshuttle era necessarily would begin with a reliance on the Soyuz to bring crewmembers to the space station in three-person rotations, but Soyuz seats were expensive: By 2018, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, was

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4), “Albert Einstein,” is pictured on June 15, 2013, prior to docking with the International Space Station following a 10-day period of free-flight. In the early 1990s, ESA began development of its ATV cargo vessel, which eventually flew five missions between 2008 and 2014.

charging about $80 million per passenger for a trip to the orbiting laboratory. International partners worked to devise a solution and maximize their utilization of the orbiting laboratory. The ESA developed the ATV, capable of delivering more than 17,000 pounds of supplies to the station. The ATV flew five missions between 2008 and 2014. JAXA completed development of the HTV, the Kounotori, with a cargo capacity of 16,800 pounds, which first traveled to the space station in September 2009. It has since flown nine missions to the orbital outpost.

COMMERCIAL RESUPPLY NASA hatched its own plan to encourage and support the growth of a market for cargo and crew transports while focusing more of its own resources on ambitious goals for exploring beyond low-Earth orbit. In 2006, the agency launched its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and invited private companies to submit competing designs for commercial cargo vessels. The fruits of COTS were borne six years later, when the Dragon, the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station, launched from the Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket and delivered supplies to the orbiting laboratory. The cargo capsule, developed by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), carried 1,000 pounds of cargo to the space station. In September 2013, Orbital Sciences Corp. (now Northrop Grumman) followed with its own resupply


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Above: The Cygnus space freighter from Northrop Grumman is pictured moments after its release from the Canadarm2 robotic arm as the International Space Station orbited over the South Pacific just off the west coast of Chile. Cygnus had completed an 88-day stay attached to the Unity module after delivering nearly 8,200 pounds of research and supplies to the space station on Nov. 4, 2019. The design of the Cygnus was spurred by NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. NASA later awarded Northrop Grumman a contract through its Comof cargo to the space station. Left: SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft, carrying about 5,500 pounds of experiments and supplies, is seen in February 2017 during final approach to the International


orbiters, for example, were built and integrated by private-sector contractors, but their design and development were controlled almost exclusively by NASA engineers, and nearly all the money to build them would come from the federal government, which would be the only customer to use them. NASA’s 21st century transports, however, would be publicprivate partnerships: NASA established the requirements for the systems, and certified

Space Station. In 2012, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station.

that the requirements had been met, but design and operational decisions were left to private-sector owner-operators, with an eye to a customer base that would expand beyond NASA. The agency intended this new generation of commercial cargo and crew transits to be a bridge to a robust,

NASA photo

mission, launching an expendable Cygnus spacecraft to the station. The Cygnus, which carried roughly 1,500 pounds of cargo on its demonstration mission, was launched atop an Antares rocket from NASA’s flight facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The Dragon and Cygnus systems were developed through fixed-price contracting – a departure from the traditional model for developing space hardware and capabilities. The Apollo spacecraft and space shuttle

NASA photo

mercial Resupply Services program for deliveries

Left: Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser lands on Edwards Air Force Base in California on Nov. 11, 2017. The spacecraft went through preparations for flight at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. The reusable cargo spacecraft is scheduled to make its demonstration flight in the fall of 2021. Below: NASA astronaut Doug Hurley (front) gives a thumbs up as he and his Demo-2 crewmate, Robert Behnken, sit inside their NASA photo/Carla Thomas

SpaceX Crew Dragon ahead of their launch into orbit on May 30, 2020. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, established to support the development of private-sector crew transports like the Crew Dragon, began in 2010.

phase of CRS deliveries began in 2012, with regular Dragon and Cygnus deliveries, and concluded on March 7, 2020, with the final launch of SpaceX’s Dragon. A second round of contracts, awarded in 2016, included SpaceX’s updated Dragon 2 vehicle, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus, and a third cargo spacecraft developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation: the Dream Chaser®, a reusable shuttle-like craft derived from a NASA spaceplane concept. Phase 2 of the CRS program began with a Cygnus mission in November 2019 that delivered a record 8,200 pounds of cargo to the station. The first launch of SpaceX’s new cargo Dragon – a variant of the Crew Dragon with the ability to autonomously dock – is scheduled for late 2020, and the Cargo Dream Chaser is

scheduled to make its demonstration flight in the fall of 2021.

THE COMMERCIAL CREW PROGRAM NASA’s program to support the development of private-sector crew transports kicked off in 2010, to allow lead time for the learning curve involved in creating and certifying more complex systems, which would require life support and launch-escape capabilities. With $50 million in NASA seed money, five competitors began designing crew transports; a year later, the field was narrowed to four, who were given an additional $270 million to develop their space shuttle replacements.


profitable low-Earth orbit market, populated by multiple users and served by multiple providers. NASA’s modest $800 million investment in the COTS program was a huge success, leveraging the introduction of two new medium-class launch vehicles and two automated cargo spacecraft, whose operators now count the agency as just one among several customers in the low-Earth orbit market. At NASA, the developmental COTS program promptly transitioned into the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program, which focuses on actual deliveries to the space station. SpaceX and Northrop Grumman were awarded contracts to deliver at least 20 metric tons of cargo to the orbital outpost. The first


Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

NASA later solicited proposals from these companies for complete end-toend crew transport services: spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, mission control, and recovery. After several phases of development and competing designs, NASA announced in September 2014 that two companies – SpaceX and Boeing – had been awarded contracts to provide crewed launch services to the space station. Both companies worked toward the same set of objectives: to develop and launch the crew


vehicle that would, in uncrewed and crewed demonstration flights, be certified to NASA’s safety and performance requirements, and then fly subsequent operational flights to the orbiting laboratory. The development of passenger vehicles with an eye to customers beyond NASA resulted in Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon, each designed to carry up to seven passengers (though each will use only four seats for NASA missions) and featuring almost roomy interiors,

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft sits atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida on Dec. 5, 2019, for the program’s first-ever Integrated Day of Launch Test the following day. The test, a full run-through of the launch countdown, was practice for Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which launched Dec. 20, 2019, but ran into technical difficulty and was cut short. Boeing will redo the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test with a launch planned in December 2020.

NASA/Frank Michaux

International Space Station

Above: The U.S. astronauts initially chosen to fly on American-made commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station pose for a portrait on Aug. 2, 2018, in front of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragon Commercial Crew vehicle mock ups at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Robert Behnken, Mike Hopkins, and Victor Glover.

United States. The Crew Dragon, like the Apollo capsule, parachutes to an ocean splashdown. In August 2018, NASA named the nine astronauts initially chosen to complete the first round of test and operational missions for the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon. Of these nine, eight were active in NASA’s Astronaut Corps; one, Chris Ferguson, was a retired NASA astronaut and an employee of Boeing.

NASA photo


especially when compared to the tight quarters of the Soyuz. While most spacecraft functions and maneuvers are automated or ground controlled, crews are able to assume manual control. Both will dock automatically with the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) of the space station and return to Earth. With its airbag-cushioned landing system, the CST-100 Starliner – the first American space capsule designed for terrestrial landing – will land at one of five designated sites in the western

The CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon, after a series of rigorous tests in the ensuing months, brought the Commercial Crew Program to the brink of its historic achievement in January 2020, when Crew Dragon took off from the Kennedy Space Center and conducted a successful separation-and-abort sequence: intentionally cutting off the Falcon 9’s fuel feed, pushing the capsule clear of the rocket with its abort engines, jettisoning the capsule’s trunk, and then using its smaller thrusters to orient it for a parachuted descent and splashdown off Florida’s Atlantic coast. It was now time for the mission known as “Demo-2”: the test flight that would ensure the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon could fly humans safely. The crewmembers chosen for this mission were NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, two of the first astronauts to begin working and training on the Crew Dragon, veterans with extensive test pilot

and spaceflight experience. Hurley and Behnken completed an intensive training regimen focused on the particulars of Demo2, dividing their time among the Kennedy Space Center, where the Crew Dragon capsule arrived in February; NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston; and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The milestone was achieved on the afternoon of May 30, 2020, when Hurley and Behnken took off from the same launch pad – Kennedy Space Center’s 39A – that had sent most of the Apollo astronauts to the Moon. It was the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since the flight of the orbiter Atlantis in July 2011 – a flight that was piloted, coincidentally, by Hurley. Shortly after launch, Hurley and Behnken, reviving a tradition from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, named their spacecraft Endeavour, in honor of the fifth and final operational space shuttle orbiter. The following day, a little after 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Crew Dragon Endeavour docked with the space station, and Behnken and Hurley were greeted by their station crewmates: Chris Cassidy, Anatoli Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner. Now part of the Expedition 63 crew, Hurley and Behnken would spend two months aboard the orbiting laboratory, conducting research and other tasks with the station crew while also performing further tests on the Crew Dragon spacecraft, before returning to Earth with a splashdown on Aug. 2. For the space station and its partners, the ability to rely on sustainable commercial crew operations is a momentous achievement. The ability of both CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon to ferry four station crewmembers will increase the crew complement on the station from six to seven. In subtracting from the time other crewmembers will have to spend on routine tasks such as maintenance and cleaning, that additional astronaut will actually double the amount of total crew research time in the orbiting laboratory, from about 40 to 80 hours a week.


Virgin Galactic

Above: Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft VMS Eve and spaceship VSS Unity take to the skies. Left: Virgin Galactic pilots Dave Mackay and Michael “Sooch” Masucci and Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses reached space over Mojave, California, in February 2019, in Virgin Galactic’s spaceship VSS Unity. Private companies like Virgin Galactic are developing spacecraft and launch systems for tourism, science, and other

Virgin Galactic 2018


In the wider world, the successes of companies such as SpaceX, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Sierra Nevada have achieved something NASA envisioned as a collateral objective of its first private resupply contracts more than a decade ago: They’ve seeded a vibrant and growing marketplace for products and services in space. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA, the rocket-building partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) are

the most prolific launchers in the United States, with government, military, privatesector, and international customers. To date, these private launches have been focused on satellites and cargo, but the maturation of the Commercial Crew Program is about to leverage other historic changes. SpaceX recently entered into an agreement with Space Adventures, a Virginia-based space tourism company, to send private citizens into suborbital space. SpaceX also partnered with

Houston-based startup Axiom Space to send three space tourists on a 10-day mission to the space station as early as 2021. Meanwhile, private companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic continue with their own development of spacecraft and launch vehicles for tourism, science, and other missions. This new service economy, delivering cargo, crew, tourists, and other payloads into space, will free up NASA and its partners to work together on answering the big questions that remain about crewed spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit, to return people to the Moon and eventually send them to Mars. Thanks to the new space industry, fostered by NASA, these questions – how far, how fast, and for how long crews can live and work in space without resupply from Earth – have the full attention of NASA and its partners. The answers are well within their reach.


International Space Station


Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

In Touch with the ISS

Engaging the public


NASA/Carla Cioffi

ISS STEMONSTRATIONS AND ASTRO SOCKS Consider the work of Becky Kamas, NASA’s STEM on Station activity manager. Kamas’ days are filled with programs engaging primarily with K-12 students, their teachers and parents, and community members in space station missions. Through regularly scheduled educational downlinks or “STEMonstrations” from the orbital outpost, her office has reached millions of students. “When a school district or science center hosts a downlink, they have an opportunity to make




arly in the Kennedy administration, there was a raging debate in Washington about the advisability of conducting Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mercury launch in public (May 5, 1961)1. After all, the argument went, the United States would lose tremendous prestige if our Redstone rocket blew up on live television before the eyes of the world. NASA’s internal documents suggested the flight had only a 75 percent chance to succeed. Kennedy chose the path of openness, stating in his address to Congress proposing a moon landing (May 25, 1961), “We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful.” Indeed, from NASA’s early years on, public engagement in the excitement of our space missions has been an integral part of the American space endeavor and how we wanted to project our space triumphs to the world. But whereas in NASA’s infancy the public was mostly limited to cheering on our space achievements as armchair spectators, the International Space Station has expanded the realm of public engagement on many fronts both in the United States and globally, truly making it the people’s space station. At a most basic level, the public can experience the space station not just via television, but in the flesh. Unlike past NASA space vehicles, the massive orbiting laboratory is easily visible to the naked eye. During pre-dawn and dusk passes overhead, it is the third brightest object in the sky, making stately arcs from horizon to horizon. Go to: to plug in your location and find the precise time and place the space station will be presenting an awe-inspiring light show in the skies above you. But even beyond spectating opportunities, including, of course, the millions who have personally viewed a launch to the space station from the Kennedy Space Center, the orbiting laboratory has provided unprecedented opportunities for direct public engagement with our astronauts onboard the facility, and for student investigators to design and participate in space station experiments.

Opposite page: International Space Station Expedition 33 flight engineer Kevin Ford (on screen) answers questions from students during a downlink event held in honor of International Education Week at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Top: President John F. Kennedy delivers a speech announcing his goals for the nation’s space effort to land a human being on the Moon before a crowd of 35,000 people in the football stadium at Rice University in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 12, 1962. Kennedy recognized the importance and value of being open with the public in regard to NASA’s space missions and activities. Above: A close-up of astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. in his space suit inside the Mercury capsule. The launch of the historic Mercury-Redstone 3 mission, during which Shepard became the first American in space, was televised and watched by millions in the United States.



Above: NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren uses a HAM radio to speak with operators down on Earth during Expedition 45. The International Space Station is equipped with amateur radio equipment, allowing astronauts to share the excitement of space exploration and to inspire and ignite interest among students and others on the ground. Right: Expedition 56 flight engineer Ricky Arnold works with a student-designed experiment using Nanoracks commercial science hardware in July 2018. The study is researching the impacts of microgravity on tissue regeneration, concrete properties, antibiotics, and the growth of plants, fungi, and bacteria. The research introduces students to the principles of space science, possibly leading to


careers as scientists.

it a community-wide event,” she said. “So, it is not just the students who get to sit in the auditorium for 20 minutes while they are chatting with the astronauts. It really becomes a community event where the entire district or community gets behind it and participates in STEM activities leading up to or even after sending up questions to the astronauts. It goes far beyond those 20 minutes for those students in the auditorium. It has a very broad reach.” Kamas explains that schools interested in participating in a downlink must develop an education plan to maximize STEM content, a technology plan to make the event happen seamlessly, and a community outreach plan to “engage VIPs, legislators,

STEM professionals, and other educational organizations in the community.” Even more intrepid students can have oneon-one audio conversations with space station astronauts by participating in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program. This opportunity is made possible by a consortium of national amateur radio organizations in the participating space station countries. Kamas’ office also helps spur student STEM education through involvement in space station research. “That means everything from curriculum support materials that teachers can use in the classroom to challenges for students where they tackle real-world problems and help propose and design solutions

to flying payloads.” Kamas adds that working with Nanoracks through their research hardware and facilities in the ISS U.S. National Lab, they are also helping college students design experiments for the near zero-gravity environment. She said, “We are requiring those higher education students to engage K-12 students in citizen science related to their experiment. There is no better way to get students involved than to have them do hands-on work side-by-side with those researchers. An example would be having the K-12 students doing ground research that would provide the space researcher with parallel data, or even having the students run analysis on the data, providing useful content back to the researchers.”


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence Pictured at left are examples of items designed and manufactured by students through NASA’s HUNCH project. Top: Astronaut Reid Wiseman uses a soft, collapsible HUNCH crew quarter organizer that features removable mesh pockets. Center: A double locker produced by students houses the Phase Change Experiment aboard the space station. Bottom: Astronauts in orbit on the space station model footpads created by students.

A favorite example for Kamas of student engagement involves the creation of “astro socks.” She tells it this way: “It stemmed from a conversation when we were meeting with Microsoft Education and we were telling about how when you go to the ISS, the calluses migrate from the bottom of your feet to the top of your feet because astronauts use their feet to hook up under those hold bars. We showed a video of Peggy Whitson taking off her socks and you see the skin flaking off. They thought this was just fascinating and that middle-school students would just love this; you get to see cool gross body science stuff. And from that, we developed an engineering design challenge where students actually built a prototype device that astronauts can put on their feet to alleviate some of the pressure.” Kamas noted that during a downlink to the Museum of Flight in Redmond, Washington, attended by 250 students, the participants asked astronaut Jessica Meir about the pressure her feet feel in space. Astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger was in Redmond in the audience. The students got to share their designs with her as well. “It was really a great culminating event from the very beginning of doing the design to being able to talk to an astronaut on the space station about this realworld problem that impacts her.”

Through NASA’s HUNCH project, students also get the opportunity to design flight hardware for the space station. HUNCH, shorthand for “High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware,” was started by NASA Payload Training Capability Project Manager Stacy Hale in 2003. Hale had learned from observing his high school-aged son that project-based learning opportunities could not only spur students’ academic development but could also provide useful training equipment for the space station. Today, through HUNCH, students design prototypes and bend metal on items that help space station crews be more productive. HUNCH students have produced 1,340 items




Right, top: Damascus as seen from the International Space Station in an image acquired via EarthKAM. Right, middle: A view of the Sally Ride EarthKAM hardware set up for use in the Window Observation Research Facility (WORF) aboard the International Space Station. Right, bottom: A Canadian student from Good Shepherd School in



Peace River, Alberta, studies orbital paths of the International Space Station. Students participating in EarthKAM missions review space station orbit tracks to identify available images.

flown to the orbiting laboratory, including stowage lockers, crew quarter organizers, footpads, EVA wire ties, a galley table, and sleeping bag liners. HUNCH students have also proved themselves adept at skills that might get them a gig on the Food Channel. “Five years ago, we asked a couple crewmembers what they would think if we started a culinary challenge,” noted Hale. “And they were excited about it. They were excited about the variety that might come in. We talked to the Food Lab and they were all in favor of it. The culinary students design an entrée or side dish, learn how to preserve it, and the food science behind it. Once, we sent some food up to the ISS; the crew used their laptops to call the school directly and talk to the teachers and students and thank them.” HUNCH has significantly impacted students’ lives in Hale’s estimation. “I can go into a classroom at the beginning of the year and no one is looking me in the eye, but towards the middle of the year you can see that they feel good about themselves,” he said. “They realize that they can make something that is going to be used by astronauts, either in space or to train to prepare for what they do in space. It gives them some confidence, making them excited about what they are going to do in the future. I can point to four or five people who now have jobs at NASA who came up through this. I can also point to others who are working with the technology that they learned doing HUNCH.”


HONORING SALLY RIDE’S LEGACY The late Dr. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, is a presence on the space station through the EarthKAM (Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) project, which has engaged a million students in taking Earth images from a space station-based Nikon D2Xs digital camera, controlled by a Lenovo (IBM) T61p laptop. Kay Taylor, director of education at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, tells the story: “EarthKAM was started by Dr. Ride [in 1995 as a space shuttle camera called KidSat]. She

was not only motivated by seeking a way to engage students in space science, but also I think she realized when you are in space, you have a very rare perspective on our planet,” said Taylor. “So, she came up with this concept of allowing students to control a camera from space.” The U.S. Space and Rocket Center partners with the University of Alabama-Huntsville and Teledyne Brown Engineering on the project, the second longest-used payload in space station history. Participating Sally Ride EarthKAM middle school classes request a certain location to be photographed, based on the latitude and longitude coordinates beneath

the space station’s orbital path, and the captured image is stored for further investigation. “We’ve had some images of the pyramids at Giza, we’ve had some great shots of the Amazon,” said Taylor. “But if there is a rock star in Sally Ride EarthKAM, it has got to be Australia. That continent is gorgeous. You get great coastline images with gorgeous emerald waters. You are looking at the greenery or the gold and yellows of the deserts. For educators who use these images in a variety of ways, the complexity of the images, the variety of the terrain, provide a great way to teach ecology or art.” Taylor noted the Sally Ride EarthKAM, like other NASA space station science engagement activities, is a free resource. “We have teachers that have been using the program for years. It is a great way to empower a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old student to control a live scientific instrument 250 miles above our heads on our space station. That’s powerful.”

THE GREATEST SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM Communications from NASA missions were once limited to garbled orbital to ground radio communications. Live television from space only came into play beginning with the Apollo 7


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Right and below: NASA is active on social media, engaging millions of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms with details about space station activities and beautiful Earth imagery captured on orbit.

mission in October 1968. Now, the space station provides NASA (and partner agencies) an excellent platform to produce one of the most dynamic social media presences on and beyond Earth. “The Space Act [NASA’s 1958 founding legislation] requires that we share information by the broadest means available,” observed Leah Cheshier, social media manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “Right now it’s social media. We’ve had our accounts for several years now [Facebook: International Space Station (4 million followers); Twitter: @Space_ Station (3 million followers); Instagram: www.; Snapchat: www.snapchat. com/add/NASA]. And we share the science that goes on aboard the ISS, the upgrades to the space station, details about spacewalks, and mission coverage of spacecraft arriving and departing. We share beautiful imagery and show people around the world a perspective they would never ordinarily get to see. So, it’s really a great platform to build awareness about how we are working on the ISS to benefit everyone on Earth.” To Cheshier, “public engagement is so much easier when we have social media. I think it’s the most direct way to talk to the public.” She added, “When media was just television, radio, and newspapers, you didn’t really get that other side, the two-way communications that give people the opportunity to say what they love, or even share what they love with other people.” While the space station does not have its own YouTube account, it did provide the setting for Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s 2013 YouTube rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which became an overnight sensation with more than 47 million views and counting ( watch?v=KaOC9danxNo). In a video describing his musical tribute, Hadfield said, “NASA is tens of thousands of people. I think that overall, they saw that it allowed people to see spaceflight for what it really is. It’s people exploring the rest of the universe, living in an environment we have never been in before. We are up there just experiencing things like anybody else is. We are taking the culture we were raised with to a new place and adapting it. And that, I think, is a healthy and natural thing to do. And so, NASA, to a large degree, really loved it. And there are all sorts of stuff NASA is doing now using


social media, using YouTube, using technology onboard to try to help people understand spaceflight even better.” Hadfield also noted that, during his first space shuttle flight (STS-74, 1995), “there were no digital cameras, so every picture was film. There was no internet. And in fact, real-time communications with the vehicle was just radio. It is really difficult to share a magnificent experience just by radio … Imagine if Michelangelo were lying on his back painting the Sistine Chapel and he had a web cam next to him, and you could ask him questions. We had no idea what Michelangelo was thinking. We only see the result. I think seeing and understanding the process and the human side of it is a really important part of the creation of new things and the exploration of new places.”

CELEBRATING OUR DIVERSITY A key factor in the space station truly being the people’s space station is that its crews represent something special that is relatable to all people: They look more like us. The early years of space exploration were almost exclusively a white male endeavor. While there is still work to be done in diversifying

Left: NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, Expedition 27 flight engineer, plays a flute in the JAXA Kibo laboratory onboard the International Space Station during some free time. While in orbit on the space station, Coleman played a duet with musician Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. Below: Yang Liwei, China’s first taikonaut, flew into space in

Xinhua News

NASA photo

2003 aboard a Shenzou 5 spacecraft.

the astronaut corps, today’s astronauts have begun to better reflect our nation’s melting pot of races and cultures. It is celebrated, but in a sense not remarkable, that women astronauts command space station missions or conduct spacewalks. And crewmembers are now scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, and not just test pilots. And yes, even a few non-astronauts have flown to the orbital outpost as space tourists.

THE INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION The space station is also a truly international endeavor, with crew participants coming from the United States, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Italy, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia,

the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2003, Chinese taikonaut Yang Liwei became his nation’s first man in space, flying aboard a Shenzou 5 spacecraft and orbiting the Earth 14 times. During his flight, he received a radio greeting in Chinese and English, sent via Mission Control from astronaut Ed Lu, who was then part of Expedition 7 aboard the space station. Lu, whose parents were born in China, remarked to his fellow space station crewmate Yuri Malenchenko, “Yuri, guess what? Right now, 66.7 percent of the people in space are now Chinese.” China is the third nation to independently launch humans to space, but was banned from participating in the International Space Station by a 2011 law. Because of its international dimensions, the space station is a reflection, as Hadfield observed, of our globe’s rich cultural diversity. John Uri, manager of the Johnson Space Center’s History Office, put it this way: “You look at [the] space station and you see an engineering feat. But there are people living up there, and so there is a societal impact as well with people living up there for six months; they kind of have to continue living their lives to some degree. So, I like looking at various things such as how they celebrate their birthdays. The other thing I like to look at is music. Many of these astronauts and cosmonauts are musically talented. Cady Coleman plays the flute and did a duet [of the song “Bourrée” in 2011] with Ian Anderson [founder of Jethro Tull] and created a video of that which was just fascinating.”

Uri also said, “Food is such an integral part of every culture. And with this being a multinational project, astronauts from different countries bring their own foodstuffs. There have been sushi parties onboard. The French bring their specialties. Then there is exercise and sports. [Sunita L.] Williams ran a marathon [on a space station treadmill in 2007, coinciding with the Boston Marathon, with an official completion time of 4:23.10]. They end up watching events like the Super Bowl and the World Cup. They even had a tennis match onboard [participants in the 2018 match were U.S. astronauts Drew Feustel, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Ricky Arnold, and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst].”

NO BORDERS While it is a cliché that from space, astronauts marvel that they see no national borders, the perspective this vantage point affords continues to resonate with space travelers and people on Earth who see cooperation in the heavens as a role model for how we can get beyond our destructive conflicts. As astronaut Scott Kelly put it in his book Endurance, his account of his year onboard the space station, “When people ask whether the space station is worth the expense, this is something I always point out. What is it worth to see two former bitter enemies transform weapons into transport for exploration and the pursuit of scientific knowledge? What is it worth to see former enemy nations turn their warriors into crewmates and lifelong friends? This is impossible to put a dollar figure on, but, to me, it’s one of the things that makes this project worth the expense, even worth risking our lives.” So, while 20 years of cooperation between men and women of different nationalities on the space station has not dramatically altered the mindset of nations regarding the conduct of events here on terra firma, the people’s space station at least provides an example of how things can be. 1. https:/


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

For the First Time: Memorable Milestones on the International Space Station BY EDWARD GOLDSTEIN


hat many space “firsts” have occurred onboard the International Space Station is unremarkable. As the biggest human space facility constructed (slightly larger than a football field) and an outpost that has provided continuous long-duration access to space for 20 years, the space station was bound to be the setting for unique accomplishments. Here is a sampling that encapsulates the wide variety of firsts the orbiting laboratory has made possible.

ADVANCING SPACE EXPLORATION A consequential space station first, from the standpoint of space exploration, is the first use of space research to enable even longer duration missions to places such as Mars. Dr. Michael Barratt, who flew twice to the orbital outpost and later managed the Human Research Program at the Johnson Space Center, said, “One of the big things was certainly the ability to improve the ability of humans to live in weightlessness. We have known for decades that you lose bone mass, you lose muscle, you lose aerobic capacity. With station, we feel that [with] our new


suite of advanced countermeasures, which includes resistive exercise, we can maintain a human in a way that we have never been able to do before. It has been a quantum step forward in maintaining human performance in space. So, we bring people down with small to negligible losses of bone mass, and muscle strength, and aerobic capacity. What we return from station now is a much more fit astronaut than what we used to return from space, even long duration. And that insight into how to field those advanced countermeasures is a big deal for us. It’s a big confidence builder when we think about durations of much greater length in time.” Two “firsts” critical to the space station’s sustainability and to the future of space activities is the first participation of commercial companies launching cargo and astronauts to the facility. Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, founded in 2002, and its Falcon 9 rocket fulfilled the promise of NASA’s commercial cargo program in 2012. And this year, SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch astronauts to the space station, with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley flying the Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Demo-2 mission.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti – dressed in a Star Trek: Voyager uniform – takes a sip of espresso from the new Capillary Beverage investigation, also known as Space Cup, while looking out of the cupola window in 2015. Cristoforetti had the honor of drinking the first-ever shot of espresso in space.

NASA/Rick Wetherington and Tony Gray NASA

Top: Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida comes alive as the Merlin engines ignite under the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule to orbit. SpaceX built both the rocket and capsule for NASA’s first Commercial Resupply Services, or CRS-1, mission to the International Space Station. Above: In this image from December 2000, the Expedition 1 crew – the first to permanently inhabit the International Space Station – are about to eat a treat of fresh oranges onboard the Zvezda Service Module. Pictured, from the left, are Soyuz commander Yuri P. Gidzenko, station commander William M. Shepherd, and cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev.

NASA photo

FUNDAMENTAL SCIENCE Congress in 2005 designated the space station as the first U.S. National Laboratory in space, enabling research and development access to a broad range of commercial,


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Left, top: The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) experiment, seen here in the foreground, was installed on the International Space Station during the STS-134 mission in 2011 (space shuttle Atlantis can be seen docked to the station at right and a Russian Soyuz docked to Pirs, at upper left). AMS is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector designed to use the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the universe and lead to understanding of the universe’s origin by searching for antimatter and dark matter and measuring cosmic rays. Left, below: NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, right, pose for a portrait vehicle mock up at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in August 2018. In May 2020, Behnken and Hurley became the first astronauts to be launched into space by

NASA photo

in front of the SpaceX Dragon Commercial Crew

a commercial company. Below: View of the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload, attached to ExPRESS (Expedite the Processing of Experiments to Space Station) Logistics Carrier-2 (ELC-2) on the S3 Truss. NICER’s primary mission to perform an in-depth study of neutron stars offers unrivaled astrophysics knowledge and can revolutionize

NASA photo

the understanding of ultra-dense matter.


yielded high-quality crystals for analysis. Most projects focus on structural determination for drug design, but others aim to improve drug formulation, manufacturing, and storage. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS02) particle physics experiment module, launched in 2011 as the most sensitive particle detector launched into space, has recorded data on more than 150 billion cosmic rays produced by supernovae explosions in our galaxy.

CONGRESSIONAL TESTIMONY In 2005, John Phillips became the first astronaut to testify before Congress while in

NASA photo

academic, and government users (other than NASA). Through the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the ISS U.S. National Laboratory is charged with promoting and brokering a diverse range of research in life sciences, physical sciences, remote sensing, technology development, and education. In 2014, the ISS National Lab began sponsoring its own series of protein crystal growth investigations, and many have

Results from AMS’ data show that cosmic ray electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons, emanate from all directions in space, rather than from specific locations. In 2017, a space station experiment called Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) was the first instrument to discover two stars that revolve around each other every 38 minutes. One is a super dense spinning pulsar and the other is a lighter white dwarf that spins around it as the larger star slowly vacuums it up.

Left, top: Former space station residents Peggy Whitson and Mike Fincke share a laugh during a 2005 hearing of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, as current station astronaut John Phillips testifies via video screen in the background. Phillips was the first astronaut to testify before Congress while in orbit. Left, center: “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, the first crop grown in space for conNASA/Bill Ingalls

sumption. Astronauts on the International Space Station grew the lettuce for 15 months in the Veggie plant growth system that tests hardware for growing vegetables and other plants in space. Left, bottom: Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield strums his guitar in the International Space Station’s cupola on Dec. 25, 2012. The following year, Hadfield made the first music video in space, in which he covered David Bowie’s 1969 classic “Space Oddity.” The video has since been seen millions of times on YouTube.




orbit. The Expedition 11 crewmember spoke about the space station’s role in preparing humans for longer-duration missions before the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.

“We constantly learn new lessons up here,” Phillips told the legislators. “The experiences we gather will enable us to establish a long-term station on the Moon and to go on to Mars.”

For many people, coffee is a must-have item in their daily diet, and astronauts aboard the space station are no exception. In fact, astronaut William “Bill” Shepherd, the commander of Expedition 1, logged his suggestion for a dedicated coffee locker after their coffee supply ran out. But while sachets of coffee have been available since the very beginnings of the space station, on May 3, 2015, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti had the honor of drinking the first-ever shot of espresso in space. The espresso was made with ISSpresso, developed for use aboard the orbital laboratory by Argotec and Lavazza in a public-private partnership with the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Cristoforetti used a special cup designed by Portland State University researchers to allow sipping in microgravity. The exotic shape of the cup allows an astronaut to actually sip the coffee rather than suck it through a tube. A contributor to space station cuisine in the Anthony Bourdain No Reservations category of exotic firsts was Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Akanuly Aimbetov. On his mission to the space station in 2015, as astronaut Scott Kelly relates in his book Endurance, Aimbetov brought up the first traditional Kazakh meal comprising horse meat soup, cheese made of horse milk, and horse milk to drink. Kelly writes that his taste buds responded accordingly: “The horse meat is a little gamey, but I eat all of it. The cheese is really salty, which is a nice change from the low-sodium food we generally have. I comment that the horse milk is really sweet – as commander, I feel like as a gesture of goodwill I should try everything – and Aidyn tells me that it is the closest in


Left: Astronaut Edward T. Lu (at musical keyboard), Expedition 7 NASA ISS science officer and flight engineer, and cosmonaut Yuri I. Malenchenko, mission commander, share a light moment during off-shift time in the Destiny laboratory on the International Space Station (ISS) in June 2003. Later that summer, on Aug. 10, 2003, Lu played the traditional “Wedding March” on an electric keyboard when Malenchenko wed Ekaterina Dmitriev in the first nuptials in space. Left, below: The Unity module offers the perfect space for an out-of-this-world jam session of AstroHawaii, whose members include, from left, Drew Feustel of NASA, Oleg Artemyev from Roscosmos, and NASA astronauts Ricky Arnold and Scott Tingle. A fifth AstroHawaii member not pictured is Anton Shkaplerov.

NASA photo

NASA photo

taste to human breast milk. That does it for me. Now my concern is what to do with a nearly full bag of unpasteurized horse milk. I tell Aidyn I am going to put it in the small fridge along with the condiments and some science experiments and drink it in the morning with my breakfast. When he is not looking, I triple-bag it and dispose of it in a spot reserved for the smelliest items.” Kelly was also involved in growing the first crop for consumption aboard the space station: “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce. The lettuce was grown for 15 months in the Veggie plant growth facility, which uses red, blue, and green LED lights to grow plants in a small space. This was an important first, as, given space and weight constraints for food storage on a mission to Mars, astronauts will rely heavily on food grown en route or on the Martian surface.

MUSICAL BREAKTHROUGHS In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made a music video of David Bowie’s 1969 classic “Space Oddity,” viewed by more than 47 million on YouTube, which juxtaposes a lone astronaut’s profound sense of isolation with the majesty of the space station and the incredible beauty of the planet below. Bowie called Hadfield’s cover “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.” Astronaut Kjell Lindgren expanded the range of space station instrumentation in 2015, playing a custom-made set of bagpipes. He played “Amazing Grace” in tribute to his friend research scientist Victor W. Hurst, who had suddenly passed away. While there have been musical instruments aboard the space station for years, what may have been the first major jam session on the space station occurred in 2018, featuring a quintet comprising the “AstroHawaii” crew of Expedition 55: Andrew “Drew” Feustel and Scott “Maker” Tingle on guitars, Ricky Arnold on the drum (a Russian solid waste container), and cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev on the pan flute and Anton Shkaplerov on the Irish flute. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano took space station music to a new level by DJing a party last year for 3,000 partygoers on a cruise ship anchored at the Spanish island of Ibiza. Using the name DJ Astro Luca, Parmitano played a 12-minute set from the European Space Agency’s Columbus module using an iPad loaded with DJ software.


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence Astronaut Sunita L. Williams, Expedition 14 flight engineer, ran the first marathon in space when she took part in the 2007 Boston Marathon. She is seen here on race day with her feet off the station treadmill on which she ultimately ran about 6 miles per hour while flying more than 5 miles each second.

FIRST WEDDING While most of the musical performance “firsts” from space were for fun, one had a more formal purpose. On Aug. 10, 2003, astronaut Ed Lu played Mendelssohn’s traditional “Wedding March” on an electric keyboard as his crewmate and cosmonaut bridegroom Yuri Malenchenko floated down the aisle to exchange his wedding vows with Ekaterina (“Kat”) Dmitriev. The space station was just south of New Zealand and Dmitriev was situated in the Gilruth Center at the Johnson Space Center when the proxy wedding, allowed by Texas state law, occurred. “I was a supportive crewmate,” Lu told me. “They emailed up the copy of the music and I said, ‘Sure, I can play this.’” The happy couple are still married today and have one child.

Lu was also involved in another space station first: the first magic trick from space. (Astronaut Edgar Mitchell was involved in a debunked effort during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 attempting to prove the validity of extra sensory perception). Lu explained he wanted to collaborate on a trick with his friend James Randi, a magician, out of admiration “for his support of science, science education, and things like that. I think it is a great message.” Lu added, “Somehow or other he set it up such that he had me trying to shuffle cards in space and pulling out a card randomly. I have no idea how he had me pull a seven of diamonds out. I did look at the deck before and it was a clear deck. I to this day do not know how I pulled that particular card out.”

THE SILVER SCREEN Video game developer Richard Garriott, the son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott, flew to the space station on a Soyuz as a “private astronaut” in 2008. There, he enlisted his fellow crewmembers Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, and Yuri Lonchakov as actors in the first science fiction film made from space, Apogee of Fear. An homage to the classic films The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, and Galaxy Quest, the 8-minute film focuses on a search for an alien aboard the space station.

SPECTACULAR SPORTS Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy get the credit for the first Olympic torch relay handoff during a spacewalk, three months before the 2014 Winter Olympics began in their home country’s resort city of Sochi. For obvious reasons, the torch was unlit. On April 16, 2007, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams became the first person to run a marathon in space. The Massachusetts native took part in the Boston Marathon


NASA photo


Right: The view from cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy’s helmet camera shows cosmonaut Oleg Kotov waving the Olympic torch outside the International Space Station in the first Olympic torch handoff to take place during a spacewalk. Right, below: NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, Expedition 17 flight engineer, ponders his next move as he plays a game of chess in the Harmony node of the International Space Station in 2008. During his time on the station, Chamitoff played against an elementary school chess team in the first match between a


player in space and an earthbound opponent.

while in orbit, completing the 26.2-mile race on a space station treadmill called TVIS, for Treadmill Vibration Isolation System. Williams finished the run in four hours, 23 minutes, and 10 seconds, and circled the Earth nearly three times in the course of the race. It was space vs. Earth in a chess match for the ages. In 2008, astronaut Greg Chamitoff, using a Velcro chessboard, took on an elementary school chess team that would pick potential moves that people could vote for online. The winning move would be Earth’s play, and then Chamitoff would respond. Chamitoff conceded defeat after team Earth turned its pawn into a queen. Ten years later, NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold teamed up to defeat fellow NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst in the first microgravity tennis match in space. The competitors used tiny tennis racquets and a tennis ball that was not allowed to bounce around lest it hurt any equipment. The match was projected live onto the Unisphere globe at the site of the New York World’s Fair (1964-65), next to where the U.S. Open is played.

NASA photo

CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 2004 Back in 2004, when NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe delivered commencement remarks for the University of North Dakota’s graduating seniors, UND contacts asked if O’Keefe’s speech could be complemented with live images from the Mars Curiosity rover. Instead, and even better, a downlink from the space station allowed a beaming astronaut Michael Fincke, along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, to send their congratulations to the newly minted graduates. Fincke spoke about enjoying the beauty of North Dakota’s rolling plains from space and his excitement about the world of possibility the orbiting laboratory and other scientific endeavors were opening for the millennial generation. These remarks were featured as the “First Extraterrestrial Graduation Address” in Vital Speeches of the Day.



International Space Station 20th Anniversary Hewlett Packard Enterprise By Norm Follett in collaboration with Dr. Mark R. Fernandez


rom the moment we learned to raise our heads, our eyes

the results are technically advanced, fiscally prudent, and flight

have always drifted upwards. The beauty, the wonder, and the

schedule friendly.

unknown mystery of what might hover above have seemingly

Launched on SpaceX CRS-12 on Aug. 14, 2017, the SBC program

always drawn humankind beyond the boundaries of Earth. During

evolved from an “experiment” to delivering “in mission” opera-

the 1960s, the United States competitively pursued the reality of

tional computer value. Exceeding original mission objectives, this

leaping beyond the blue to the vastness of what might be. Fast

self-contained, water-cooled, and solar-powered system enjoyed

forward several decades and the United States, working coopera-

an 8-month mission extension, where additional computational

tively with the global scientific community, continues to pursue this

tasks, not previously scoped, were performed at the request of

dream. At the forefront of the technology that steered the journey

NASA and its partner agencies. This included the monitoring and

of our early space explorers was the company that Bill Hewlett

measurement of the landing of InSight on the surface of Mars

and Dave Packard founded. From navigational tracking systems

in 2019. The final flight log of SBC is impressive – 53,936 experi-

that monitored the Apollo spacecraft to diodes and pin switches in

ments executed flawlessly during the course of 9,562 orbits while

the suits of Armstrong and Aldrin, the company that carries their

dealing with 6,879 South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) crossings.

names continues to drive technology exploration with the intent of making physical space exploration a reality. It could be argued as to what was the first commercially available “computer” to journey into space. Was it Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) Spaceborne Computer system (SBC) in 2017? Or perhaps it was Bill and Dave’s answer to address the need for on-board orbital rendezvous calculations during the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission – the HP65 calculator? Or the GRiD laptop computer that flew aboard the space shuttle in the 1980s? There can be no doubt, however, that the 657 days that the SBC system spent aboard the ISS demonstrated that a modern, commercially available computer system could be successfully integrated into a space-based flight system in a timely fashion. The significance is multi-faceted. As we have moved beyond asking ourselves “can we do it” to “can we can afford it,” the technical and fiscal impact is huge across every space exploration project. The ability to leverage market dynamics and technological

After 657 days of 24/7 operations, NASA astronaut Christine Koch gets the

innovations and apply them in a real-time, affordable format to

SB1 ready for its flight home – April 30, 2019.

spaceflight ultimately allows our scientific capabilities to extend and evolve. As a result, the most sophisticated craft of its day,

During its 20 years of flight, the ISS has always benefited from

such as the Endeavor in the ‘90s, will no longer be forced to fly

being a mere 240 miles or so from the world’s greatest computer

with dated equipment to support computational activity. This was

resources. While the addition of on-board super computer capa-

a spacecraft design decision dictated by development, test, and

bility is a significant upgrade to on-board experimentation and

cost constraints. By removing the burden of developing propri-

research possibilities, it was not necessarily the core mission of

etary computer systems for space exploration from government

the SBC program. Consistent with NASA and the international

agencies and aerospace contractors and shifting the computer

space community’s goal of using the ISS as a platform to prepare

need to private-sector companies who specialize in the field,

for deeper exploration of space, the SBC system proved that


of the Destiny module at technology events around the world. Delighted space enthusiasts and future explorers in locations such as Paris, London, Barcelona, Munich, Dallas, and more were able to step aboard the U.S. laboratory module and inspect the results of on-board computer experimentation while getting a sense for what it might be like to live and work aboard the station. Who knows what scientific curiosity or perhaps greatness was inspired among the 50,000-plus to visit the terrestrial version of Destiny while actively linking in real time to the ISS? At the invitation of NASA, HPE is busily preparing for a return to the station with its Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC) system. With advanced HPE Edgeline and Apollo DL360 systems on board, that mission will expand upon the first mission’s success, allowing crew and core ISS researchers to take advantage of on-board state-ofthe-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) and High Performance Compute (HPC) capabilities. In addition to ISS researchers, earthbound scientists in commercial and educational sectors will also be able to The earthbound Destiny module.

take advantage of these capabilities as well. Following the example of the Space Shuttle Program’s Get Away Special (GAS) student program, computer cycles will be made available to educational institutions to allow students the opportunity to experiment in an

the latest computer technologies available to the market can be integrated into space missions where that capability is considered

extraterrestrial environment. SBC’s core “TeamOfSeven,” our extended ground support team,

critical. Take, for example, the upcoming exploration of Mars. At

and all of the employees at Hewlett Packard Enterprise congrat-

its aphelion with Earth, a 40-minute-plus communication delay

ulate the thousands of people in the international scientific com-

could not only make research difficult on Mars, but also prove to

munity who have contributed to the tremendous success of the

be potentially dangerous to the crew. State-of-the-art, high-end

first 20 years of the International Space Station. With the Space-

computer capability on these explorations is certainly considered

borne Computer-2 program undergoing flight certification and

mission critical and a key to success.

manifested for launch aboard NG15 on Feb. 1, 2021, we are not only

Consistent with the educational spirit of the ISS and its contrib-

proud to have contributed to the first 20 years of the station’s

uting agencies, the “flight of Spaceborne Computer” was shared

history, but look forward to leaping back aboard and being part of

globally. Outfitted with a prototype version of the SBC system and

the next 20 years of the International Space Station’s scientific

a direct active link to the station, HPE “landed” a scale replica

leadership, achievement and success.

HPE’s Dr. Ben Bennett and a group of students in the Destiny at Mobile World Congress 2018 in Barcelona.

International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

THE OVERVIEW EFFECT What happens when you see Earth from space – and why it’s so hard to explain BY CRAIG COLLINS


t was on the day many Earthlings know as Christmas Eve, 1968, when the first three humans to leave our planet’s orbit – Apollo 8 astronauts William Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell – swung around the dark side of the Moon and saw what nobody had ever seen before: an impossibly blue orb, swirling with clouds, in the blackness beyond the Moon’s desolate horizon. “Oh my God!” Anders exclaimed. “Look at that picture!” Moments later he captured the full-color image we know today as “Earthrise.” Anders’ photograph offered humans a stark look at their place in the universe: They were invisible, clinging to a tiny ball of water and rock that tumbled in a fathomless void. Wilderness photographer Galen Rowell declared the image “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” The iconic illustration of the planet’s fragility helped to inspire the first Earth Day: April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans – about 10 percent of the nation, at the time – rallied and marched and demanded their political leaders take action to protect the planet. In the 20th continuous year of human habitation aboard the International Space Station, it’s worth wondering whether the sight of Earth from space is as influential as it used to be. “Earthrise” was the first of many such photographs. Most of us have seen it, or something similar – and if we think about it, it’s pretty cool; if we think about it a lot, we might even get close to the sense of awe many people felt when they got their first look in 1968. Fifty years after “Earthrise,” in a retrospective he wrote for, Anders recalled: “We set out to explore the Moon, and instead discovered Earth.” Many space travelers, from Yuri Gagarin to Christina Koch, have expressed a similar sense of enduring astonishment. So why are the rest


NASA photo

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small. – Neil Armstrong

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the cupola of the International Space Station at the blue and white Earth below. The image was a self-portrait using natural light.

of us so quick to lose that feeling? “Earthrise” offers a clue.

NASA photos

WHAT IS THE OVERVIEW EFFECT? In the early 1980s, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar named Frank White belonged to a group known as the Space Studies Institute, whose members advocated the creation of human orbital communities between the Earth and the Moon. On a cross-country flight, while looking out the airplane window, White imagined that if he lived in one of those settlements, he would always have an overview of the Earth, and see it as a whole system in which everything was connected. “I wouldn’t have to think about it. I wouldn’t have to meditate on it. I would just know it,” he recalled. “And then the term overview effect came to me, and since no one lived in outer space at that time, I interviewed astronauts as proxies for space settlers.” White has now interviewed dozens of astronauts for his book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, which demonstrates that a direct, distant view of Earth brings a cognitive shift in awareness: Astronauts experience the planet as an object moving through space; their fellow humans as crewmates on what futurist Buckminster Fuller called “Spaceship Earth.” In 2008, White

and David Beaver, a nuclear and social scientist, established the nonprofit Overview Institute to communicate these insights and their implications for the rest of us. Beaver, also the institute’s chief cognitive researcher, has some ideas about why this paradigm shift takes hold in astronauts, but is rare among terrestrials who see their planet in photographs, planetariums, or IMAX theaters. For one thing, people tend to interpret things – especially new, bewildering things – in ways that conform to what they’ve already seen. Which brings us back to “Earthrise”: Through their spacecraft windows, the Apollo 8 astronauts saw the Earth drifting slowly leftward; Anders framed the photograph as it appeared to him, the Moon’s horizon a gray wall to his right. But the “Earthrise” presented to us – on virtually every website, including NASA’s; on postage stamps; on the covers of bound collections of the most influential photographs in history – is rotated, to resemble our more recognizable sunrises and moonrises. We couldn’t call it “Earthrise” otherwise; there is no word or phrase among humanity’s 6,500 languages to describe a celestial body sliding sideways past a vertical horizon. Until 1968, nobody had ever seen such a thing. The collective mind of Homo sapiens, a species evolved in bodies born and reconstituted from the

The iconic photograph of Earth and the Moon’s horizon known as “Earthrise” (pictured at left) has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.” It was captured in 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission, whose crewmembers (pictured at top beside the Apollo Mission Simulator at Kennedy Space Center in November 1968) were, from left, James A. Lovell, Jr., command module pilot; William A. Anders, lunar module pilot; and Frank Borman, commander. Anders, pictured above adjusting his helmet prior to liftoff on Dec. 21, snapped the famous photo on Christmas Eve.

planet’s raw materials over 200,000 years, bears the imprint of our position on the Earth’s surface. “Down” is where the Earth pulls us; we know it even with our eyes closed. “Up” is the endless blue sky. The Earth is immeasurably vast, stretching far beyond a flat horizon.


Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

Time is marked by days that begin when we first see the sun and end when it disappears. These rhythms and forces are defined by the fact that we live on a planet in space. Most people understand this, but they understand it because someone told them, in the way they know about the Ice Age, or electricity. “People think of the Earth as this collection of nations spread out over a tiny sliver of biomass on top of a gigantic planet,” Beaver said. “The sense of the reality of a planet in the universe is missing from our visceral, internal understanding of life on Earth.” But not if you’re an astronaut.

EARTH FROM SPACE On the space station, there is no up or down. The Earth you see from its 360-degree viewing area, the cupola, is round and bright, mostly water, not as big as you thought, with no visible international boundaries. The once-endless sky is a flimsy amniotic layer that looks as if you could rub it off with your thumb. Station crewmembers work with terrestrial teammates during “days” that begin around 7:00 a.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time, the worldwide scientific standard for timekeeping), but the orbiting laboratory circles the Earth approximately every 90 minutes, so crewmembers experience 16 sunrises and sunsets every “day.” In their research, Beaver and White have discovered several recurring elements of the overview effect. For example, many astronauts


Astronaut Ron Garan, STS-124 mission specialist, participates in the mission’s third scheduled session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station in 2008. Garan experienced the overview effect during the EVA.

experience a profound recognition of, and concern for, the fragility of the planet. André Kuipers, the Dutch astronaut who was a flight engineer on the space station in 2004 and again in 2011-2012, got his first long look at the Earth from the window of the U.S. Destiny laboratory. “I remember very well the moment that I felt this overview effect,” he said. “It was when I flew over India, and I thought: ‘Wow, there’s a billion people living there. And they all think the Earth is endless. But in one-and-a-half hours, I’ll see them again in the distance, on my next orbit.’” To Kuipers, the Earth looked like a cell within a thin membrane, and for all its beauty, he was dismayed by the visible signs of humanity: hazy yellow clouds of industrial pollution; huge algae blooms in the ocean; the scars of rainforest clear-cuts; and at night, lights drowning out all the empty spaces. “The Earth seems a bit like a baby,” Kuipers said, “beautiful, but also vulnerable. It’s a very fragile planet with a limited amount of fertile ground.” Seeing the Earth as a cell within a membrane, floating in space, also introduces a perspective that goes beyond regional or national identity. Michael López-Alegría, the NASA astronaut who was space station com-

mander of the seven-month Expedition 14 in 2006-2007, and who participated in 10 spacewalks and holds the American record for total cumulative spacewalk duration (67 hours, 40 minutes), was busy during his time outside the station, but nevertheless took a few moments to observe the globe. “You look down and feel connected to the Earth and the people on it,” he said, “and knowing a lot of what’s going on down there, maybe things we read about in the news onboard, people fighting over this or that – it just makes you feel like a parent who interrupts a squabble between children: ‘Come on, guys. Really. That is not important.’” Beaver and White have also noted the overview effect often awakens or reinforces humanitarian concerns – a desire for people to stop fighting and take care of each other. NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a flight engineer aboard the station for six months in 2011, has spoken extensively about seeing and contemplating Earth, and written three books about it. In his first, The Orbital Perspective, he describes experiencing the overview effect in 2008, when he was a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Discovery, replacing a nitrogen tank on the station. Garan rode the station’s 57-foot robotic arm in an arc, from one end to the other, and as he looked down at what he later described as “this stunning, fragile oasis, this island that has been given to us,” he felt overwhelmed by a discrepancy: “In spite of the overwhelming beauty of this scene,” he wrote, “serious inequity exists on the apparent paradise we have been given. I couldn’t help thinking of the nearly one billion

NASA photo

International Space Station

The lights of the American Midwest illuminate the Earth in this image taken by the International Space Station Expedition 46 crew on Jan. 5, 2016. The picture, which was taken while the station was flying above Alabama, shows numerous major cities, including the city of Chicago (middle-left) situated on the Lake Michigan coastline. Those who have experienced the overview effect have reported feeling inspired by the Earth’s beauty and fragility and dismayed by visible signs of humanity, such as algae blooms, rainforest

NASA photo

clear-cuts, and light pollution.

people who don’t have clean water to drink, the countless number who go to bed hungry every night, the social injustice, conflicts, and poverty that remain pervasive across the planet.” Many astronauts claim difficulty in describing the experience of seeing the Earth – you have to be there, they say; there is no medium capable of capturing the stupefyingly awesome spectacle. NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, a flight engineer on the station for six months in 2009, found herself unprepared for the “overwhelmingly beautiful, glowing view of who and where we are.” When she tried to describe it in a phone call to her 7-year-old son, she said, “all I could think to tell him was: Imagine you’ve got the brightest light bulb you’ve ever seen, and

you splash it with all these colors that you know Earth to be, and then you turn it on and you almost can’t look at it; it’s so bright, you’ve got to let your eyes adjust.” Stott, López-Alegría, and others have also said the awe inspired by the overview effect isn’t immediate; it sinks in over time. Garan, also, differentiates between the overview effect itself – “that ‘aha’ moment when you realize you are part of something bigger than yourself” – and what he calls the orbital

perspective: “an epiphany in slow motion,” he said. “The orbital perspective is what you do with that awareness, the call to action from the overview effect.”

THE ORBITAL PERSPECTIVE: SPACEFLIGHT’S GIFT TO EARTH Garan and other astronauts have responded passionately to their calls to action. Since he last returned to Earth nearly a

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Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

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International Space Station


Left, top: Colorful spacesuits made by astronaut Nicole Stott’s foundation, Space for Art, are fashioned from patches created by children around the world. Left, above: Pictured from left to right, Frank White, author of The Overview Effect and a co-founder of the Overview Institute; astronauts Jeff Hoffman and Ron Garan; and filmmaker Douglas Trumbull participate in a panel discussion about the overview effect following the premiere of the short film Overview at an event at Harvard University on Dec.

SpaceBuzz Foundation

Stott’s foundation, Space for Art, unites children around the world – in hospitals, schools, and refugee centers – to explore the awe and wonder of space exploration and to “raise awareness of our role as crewmembers, not just passengers, on Spaceship Earth.” Among the foundation’s most conspicuous creations are its colorful spacesuits, pieced together from patches created by kids around the world. The most recent suit, “Exploration,” was fashioned by kids in hospitals and refugee centers in 45 different countries. “These kids understand they live on a planet,” Stott said. “There are kids we’ve worked with in Uganda who never had an idea that a place called Ohio even existed, and they know now that there are kids in those places who are going through something similar to them, and that they’ve both had the opportunity, through painting something to do with space

7, 2012, the 40th anniversary of “The Blue Marble” photograph of Earth. Trumbull is working with the Overview Institute to create an immersive cinematic experience to approximate the direct experience of the overview effect. Above: Dutch astronaut André Kuipers founded SpaceBuzz, a nonprofit educational foundation, to introduce the overview effect to schoolchildren around the world. He is pictured in front of the SpaceBuzz rocket.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Stott

decade ago, Garan has been trying to marshal the collective resources of multinational, government, and private organizations to solve thorny humanitarian problems such as hunger, disease, and poverty. His many efforts include Unity Node (, an informal data-sharing initiative aimed at cooperation and optimizing resources. Garan named the initiative for the space station module that links the orbital segments of the United States and Russia – the former Cold War enemies who set aside their differences to form the core of what’s arguably the most valuable international collaboration in history. “Space is a very unifying human endeavor,” said Garan. “We’ve gotten a little taste of what we can do together as a species if we set aside our differences and work together. And hopefully it will be the example that we follow in other things.”

NASA photo SpaceBuzz Foundation

exploration, to think about their futures outside of that place.” Kuipers began serving as an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund after his return to Earth, and eventually channeled his concerns into a nonprofit educational foundation, SpaceBuzz, which introduces the overview effect to a growing number of schoolchildren around the world. The SpaceBuzz experience, first launched in his native Netherlands, is an intensive astronaut role-play that begins with students training and learning about the planet and spaceflight, then checking in with Mission Control over the internet – and finally climbing aboard the SpaceBuzz rocket vehicle on wheels that seats nine at a time. Student astronauts don virtual reality goggles and are led by Kuiper’s avatar into space – and see some of the things, such as the algae blooms and clear-cuts, that have him worried for the planet’s future. “We even go to the Moon,” Kuipers said, “and they see the ‘Earthrise,’ which was iconic, and was the start of it all: Apollo 8, in 1968, when we saw for the first time with human eyes that we live on this spaceship Earth, this very fragile blue planet with limited resources.” There’s no question that the overview effect shifts an astronaut’s worldview, but it’s not quite right to think of it as a revelatory, quasi-religious experience that transforms a person. Stuart Roosa, the Apollo 14 command module pilot, once acknowledged that seeing Earth from space was a moving experience, but also claimed that, “space changes nobody ... You bring back from space what you bring into space.” Garan was a humanitarian before he went to space, the leader of a nonprofit aimed at bringing renewable energy, communications technology, and clean drinking water

Left: The SpaceBuzz rocket vehicle features virtual reality goggles that student astronauts wear to “travel” into space. Above: Thanks to a unique photographic angle, this image features the International Space Station’s cupola and crew activity inside it, other hardware belonging to the station, the city lights of Brisbane, Australia, on Earth, and airglow. It was captured over an area southwest of Canberra, Australia, by one of the Expedition 28 crewmembers in September 2011. In seeing the Earth from the vantage point of space and sharing their experiences from that perspective, astronauts are helping us to better see and understand our home and the need to protect it.

to other parts of the world. Stott has always been an artist – but is the first space station crewmember to paint what she saw out the window while still in space. Maybe it’s more accurate to apply a caveat uttered by the late Alan Bean, the Apollo 12 and Skylab astronaut. “Everyone who went to the Moon,” Bean said, “came back more like they already were.” Among the billions of human beings who have ever lived, only about 565 – and counting – have seen the Earth in a way that’s given them the chance to become more like they already were. “I define the overview effect as something that happens when you’re in space,” said White. “I wrote The Overview Effect to change how we see ourselves as a planet, as people, where we are in the universe ... but it really is the astronauts’ message.” To approximate the direct experience of the overview effect, the Overview Institute has been working with Hollywood special effects legend Douglas Trumbull to create an

immersive cinematic experience on a 50-acre complex in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Trumbull, the creator of visual effects for films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, has been involved in the institute since its inception; years ago, it was he who recommended White’s book to Beaver. Trumbull has said he views the Berkshires project as a chance to create a “synthetic overview effect,” a media experience so profound that every viewer will feel as if “you were there, and you got it, and something happened to you in your heart and your soul and your spirit. That would be, to me, the most satisfying special effect I could do in my life.” Meanwhile astronauts, with efforts such as Unity Node, Space for Art, and SpaceBuzz, share their insights and call their fellow Earthlings to action – a fortuitous consequence of the human spaceflight era. As more astronauts offer their own deeply personal interpretations of the overview effect, we may begin to see them less as the mythic folk heroes we imagined in the days of Apollo, and more as they see us: our crewmates on Spaceship Earth. One of the most fabled space travelers, the famously stoic Neil Armstrong, said he viewed the Apollo program as “a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.” But even Armstrong couldn’t help, once he found himself on the Moon, playing peek-a-boo with the tiny blue pea of Earth. As future generations lead us farther out into the universe and change the way we see ourselves, they’re as likely as today’s astronauts to realize this is only part of their job: Their most important task, maybe, is to show the rest of us the way home.


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence


The future of the space station, low-Earth orbit, and beyond



he International Space Station has already achieved much more than was expected of it. It was designed and tested for a 15-year lifespan, an age its oldest segments reached in 2013. Its components were built, however, to last twice as long, and in 2017, Boeing, NASA’s prime contractor for the space station, certified all its major U.S. structural elements to 2028. For more than 20 years, the orbiting laboratory has provided a platform for people to learn about living and working in space, and has yielded discoveries in astrophysics, physical science, Earth science, space science, and human health. It has contributed to commercial research and development for pharmaceuticals, materials, manufacturing, and consumer products, and it’s proven a valuable asset in disaster response on Earth, providing near real-time mapping support for recovery and humanitarian aid. Its contributions to humanity are considerable and ongoing, and often yield unexpected breakthroughs. But what will become of the International Space Station? Anyone who’s been involved in the program, for all their affection and reverence for what it’s meant for science and humanity, will give you a blunt and unsentimental answer: Someday the station will be at the bottom of an ocean. While spaceflight has introduced dramatic exceptions to Newton’s Third Law, it has been the fate of every object in low-Earth orbit (LEO) to return to Earth. It happened to Skylab, and to Mir, and it will eventually happen to the space station. “Eventually,” however, may still be a ways off. More than one legislative proposal has been introduced in Congress to extend space station operations to 2030, a desire NASA’s


retired former space station program manager, Kirk Shireman, said is unanimous among the station’s international partners: Russia, Japan, Canada, and the supporting member nations of the European Space Agency. “I think the station will be beneficial to the United States, and to the world, at least until 2030,” Shireman said – though he cautioned that the station is a machine, like an automobile or aircraft, that will ultimately reach the end of its service life. “Eventually it will have to come home,” he said. “But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t last well beyond 2030.” Discussions about what LEO will look like post-2030, Shireman said, will involve politics, technology, and economics, including the key question of whether space station partners are receiving adequate returns on their investments. For NASA, that investment is significant: The agency spends between $3 billion and $4 billion annually on maintaining and operating the station, which is roughly half of what the agency spends on human spaceflight, and NASA’s ambitions go far beyond LEO. In December 2017, the Trump administration issued Space Policy Directive 1, which stated that “the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.” It will be difficult, if not impossible, to realize these deep-space ambitions with half the agency’s budget spent in LEO, but NASA leaders are pursuing these goals shrewdly: It’s unlikely that any single agency can achieve these goals, anytime soon, without the kind of collaboration that built and continues to support the space station. The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, for example, the minispace station envisioned to provide a hub for

An illustration of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, which is envisioned as a hub for communications, short-term habitation, and research in orbit around the Moon. Built with commercial and international partners, the Gateway will be critical to sustainable lunar exploration and will serve as a model for future missions to Mars.

NASA image

communications, short-term habitation, and research in orbit around the Moon, will be led by NASA, but the current plan is to develop, service, and utilize it in collaboration with all space station partners: the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), Roscosmos, and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Building on the space station partnership to achieve long-duration spaceflight goals is one part of NASA’s strategy to reduce the costs of human spaceflight. The other part is aimed at reducing the amount it spends on the space station, mostly by encouraging other people to spend money there. NASA is leading a new vision for LEO: a thriving trillion-dollar marketplace that will build on a

generation of innovation and give NASA and its partners a running start in their plans to explore the Moon and beyond.

COMMERCIALIZING LOW-EARTH ORBIT: SHARING THE BURDEN, SPURRING INNOVATION In the 1980s, when the Reagan administration envisioned what was then called Space Station Freedom, NASA anticipated a multipurpose facility: an observatory and laboratory, but also a way station for vehicles and payloads, and a facility for manufacturing, assembling, and servicing space hardware and systems. Congressional committees were skeptical about funding a space station, but

one argument that helped convince them was the idea articulated by President Ronald Reagan in his 1984 State of the Union address: “Just as the oceans opened up a new world for clipper ships and Yankee traders, space holds enormous potential for commerce today,” he said. “The market for space transportation could surpass our capacity to develop it. Companies interested in putting payloads into space must have ready access to private-sector launch services.” Reagan’s words were prescient, but a market for space commerce has been slower to develop than anticipated. It took nearly two decades for NASA, with its Commercial Resupply and Crew programs, to break out of the 20th-century government-as-sole-


NASA/Kim Shiflett

customer model, but the exciting results of those programs have inspired a new push to commercialize activity aboard the space station. In 2014, the agency launched its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, establishing a public/private partnership model to prompt commercial development of space exploration technologies. In May 2019, NASA collected the results of several studies it had commissioned among leading aerospace companies to evaluate the potential for stimulating private demand for human spaceflight and services aboard the orbital outpost. After fielding a number of ideas, the agency later announced a plan to encourage for-profit activities aboard the space station. Through the NASA Research Announcement and NextSTEP, the agency asked for proposals to purchase limited amounts of cargo capacity and crew time; to fly private astronauts on commercial spacecraft to the space station for short-term stays; and to attach one or more commercial elements to the last open port on the station: the forward port of its forwardmost mod-

In 2019, NASA began evaluating habitat prototypes developed through NASA’s Next Space Exploration for Technologies Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program to help engineers refine requirements for the design of an American-made deep space habitat for the Gateway. Here, from left, astronauts Frank Rubio, Shannon Walker, Stephanie Wilson, and Raja Chari, pictured at Kennedy Space Center inside a habitat prototype developed by Lockheed Martin, participate in an evaluation of the prototype to provide their perspectives as those who may one day live aboard the lunar outpost. The five other companies selected to develop ground prototypes are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Nanoracks.

ule, Harmony (Node 2). NASA has received a number of proposals for commercial and marketing opportunities on the station. NASA’s idea of commercialization isn’t to sell off the station’s assets and wash their hands of it; rather it is to use the resources of the space station to help companies learn how to do business in space. The maturing Commercial Crew Program, which launched

astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the space station in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on May 30, 2020, has allowed the agency to show that private-sector competition and innovation can help achieve the program’s objectives. NASA is now transitioning into the era foreseen by the visionaries of Space Station Freedom: a bustling LEO economy in which government agencies are not the sole owner/operators of hardware and systems, but are a handful of customers among many others. Joel Montalbano, current space station program manager, believes the remaining questions about long-duration spaceflight will be answered more quickly after private companies begin sending their own astronauts into space. Commercialization, he said, will bring other benefits as well. First, and most obviously, it will bring down costs. NASA’s Commercial Resupply Program has already made it cheaper to launch and fly cargo to the station. “Space is still an expensive endeavor,” said Montalbano. “It needs to be cheaper, and commercialization and competition is the way to achieve that. And we’re definitely seeing the benefits of it.”


Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

NASA photo

International Space Station

Above: The Canadarm2 robotic arm and Dextre, the fine-tuned robotic hand, are remotely controlled from Earth to extract Bartolomeo from the pressurized trunk of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship. Built by Airbus Defense and Space and funded by private investors, Bartolomeo offers commercial companies a streamlined way to get their experiments into orbit. Right: The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is seen at center attached to the Tranquility module of the International Space Station. BEAM is an expandable habitat technology demonstration

Shireman conceded that commercializing the space station – introducing free-market competition to a platform built through unprecedented international collaboration – wasn’t an idea that took hold among all station partners at the same time. The Russians were arguably the first to introduce commerce to the station, when they flew the first private astronaut there a decade-anda-half ago. When NASA introduced the idea


NASA photo

co-sponsored by Bigelow Aerospace and NASA.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station for the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Demo-2 was SpaceX’s final flight test, paving the way for the agency to certify the crew transportation system for regular, crewed flights to the orbiting

NASA/Tony Gray and Tim Powers


of commercialization to the U.S. Orbital Segment partners, Shireman said, they reacted with surprise at first – but have since warmed to the realization that the commercialization of LEO was, actually, one of the partnership’s founding objectives. The space station has since welcomed public-private partnerships, including privately owned and operated research facilities – now close to two dozen in number – to the platform. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is one such example of NASA partnership with industry to facilitate the growth of the commercial use of space. BEAM, an expandable habitat technology demonstration, is co-sponsored by NASA and Bigelow Aerospace. It launched to the space station in 2016 on the eighth SpaceX Commercial Resupply Mission, and, once attached to the Tranquility node by Canadarm2, it was filled with air for a two-year test period, during which astronauts performed tests to validate overall performance and capability of expandable habitats with an eye toward their suitability for long-duration space exploration. The two-year test period was extended by three years in 2017, with two options to extend for one additional year. In March 2020, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule delivered a platform called Bartolomeo, built by a private company, Airbus Defense and Space, to house experiments and payloads on the exterior of the European Columbus module. Bartolomeo, funded by private investors, offers commercial companies a streamlined way to get their experiments in orbit. Continuing U.S. private-sector efforts will include the delivery of an airlock named Bishop, built and completely funded by the private company Nanoracks, that will attach to Tranquility (Node 3) and offer greater deployment volume for private satellites. From the airlock of its Kibo module, JAXA is deploying CubeSats for private


International Space Station

Twenty Years of Continuous Human Presence

companies, and leasing time aboard some of its payload facilities. “I think everyone is on board,” Montalbano said. “And you’ll see more and more of this going forward. I can tell you the other partners are dreaming up new things to do with their industries.”

On Feb. 28, 2020, NASA announced it had selected its contractor for the station’s first commercial destination, a habitable module to be attached to the front of the station: Axiom Space of Houston, Texas. Under the agreement, the plan is for Axiom to send a first module, the AxN1 – a node module much like the space station nodes – to dock with the station in late 2024. But according to Axiom’s co-founder, president, and CEO, Michael Suffredini, this will be only the beginning. Suffredini, a retired NASA veteran who managed the space station program from 2005 to 2015, said Axiom Space was established in 2016 specifically to build the world’s first privately funded commercial space station, to pick up where the space station left off. This was the idea Axiom first presented to NASA when the agency asked industry to study ideas for commercializing the station. “We came in and we said: ‘We want to build a space station and attach to one of your ports, so we can utilize your power and cooling while we build.” The agency agreed to assist in funding the demonstration of AxN1. The Axiom Space station, Suffredini said, will be “no-kidding commercial.” After partnering with NASA for the demonstration phase, the company will add privately funded modules in yearly increments: a habitation module with the capacity for eight people; a research and manufacturing facility; and a power and thermal tower that will allow the Axiom station to separate from the orbital outpost and fly independently. Axiom Space modules won’t require any NASA resources to reach the station, Suffredini said; using one of several available commercial rockets to reach orbit, they’ll be equipped with their own propulsion, power, cooling, and GNC (guidance/navigation/control) systems and will be able to fly to the station independently. Suffredini said Axiom has identified six revenue streams for the company in space; ultimately, as the appropriate market and facilities mature, he sees manufacturing in LEO as probably the most promising. Space has proven to be a superior environment for making fiber optics, metal alloys, certain


A rendering of Axiom Space modules attached to the International Space Station. Under an agreement with NASA, Axiom Space will send a first module, AxN1, to dock with the station in 2024. After the demonstration phase, Axiom Space will add privately funded modules, creating a space station that will eventually be able to separate from the ISS and fly independently.

pharmaceuticals, and biological tissues. “That’s going to be a blooming industry at some point,” said Suffredini. “As we manufacture more and more items in space that can’t be manufactured on the ground, we’ll come to rely on that capability on the ground.” He uses the example of aircraft manufacturers who might benefit from the manufacture of turbine blades made from space-made alloys, allowing engines to be smaller and lighter. “There are areas people don’t even know to think about yet,” he said. The successful development of commercial crew spacecraft has already introduced a new round of private capabilities: NASA entered into an agreement with KBR in January 2020 that grants the company the opportunity to train private astronauts at NASA facilities. In February 2020, Space Adventures, a space tourism company, announced plans to fly private citizens into orbit aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. A month later, SpaceX announced that it had partnered with Axiom Space – the first company to contemplate private astronaut missions, as articulated in an agreement signed with NASA in 2016 – to send three private

astronauts on a 10-day trip to the space station sometime in late 2021: SpaceX will handle the transport, with its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, and Axiom will handle the logistics of the first fully private trip to the station. In June 2020, Virgin Galactic signed an agreement with NASA to develop a private astronaut orbital readiness program that entails identifying candidates interested in purchasing private missions to the space station and then procuring transportation, on-orbit resources, and ground sources for the missions. Even for those who have been paying attention to the space station over the past two decades, such a dramatic change – private astronauts, riding private capsules to a space station that’s spawning the first private space station – might seem strange. Montalbano is excited to see how these developments will accelerate work aboard the orbiting laboratory in the coming decade: maturing the technologies of environmental control and life support systems, understanding the risks of radiation in long-duration spaceflight, and answering the questions that remain about what it means to live and work in space. “A more robust future for human spaceflight is really important, and I want to make sure NASA and its partners are getting the technology they need to send humans farther out into space, for longer durations than ever before,” Montalbano said. “I really think that’s our destiny as a species.” To learn more, visit:

Axiom Space


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