Space travel: The ISS is 25 years old, but some of the technology is much older

tThe ISS has already been announced many times, but humanity’s outpost still orbits the Earth 16 times a day at a distance of about 400 kilometers. Seven men and women from the US, Denmark, Japan and Russia are currently aboard the International Space Station and will be able to celebrate an anniversary there on Monday: the ISS turns 25, exactly a quarter of a century since the first The Russian module “Sarja” (German: Dawn) was launched into space.

“We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ISS,” said the director of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, with relief. At the same time he emphasized: “There is no doubt that nothing lasts forever. “The station is aging.” Today, almost 80 percent of Russian equipment has reached its “maximum guaranteed service life.” The agreement to build the facility was signed in Washington in January 1998, as a successor to the Soviet “Mir” space station.

Previously, on January 25, 1984, then-US President Ronald Reagan commissioned the US space agency NASA to develop a manned space station. Over the years, NASA incorporated the space agencies of Canada, Japan and Europe, and with the end of the Soviet Union also the Russian one, a project of international understanding after the end of the Cold War.

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Since then, the ISS has continued to grow. It is now about the size of a football field, a kind of 450-ton house with six bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym and a panoramic window, and is equipped with various technical equipment. Most of the components come from the USA and Russia.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who visited twice, called the ISS “the most complex, valuable and improbable machine that humanity has ever built.” Total costs have long exceeded $100 billion. Astronauts have been researching continuously in this space laboratory since 2000. Matthias Maurer was the last German to be there between 2021 and 2022. This considers the ISS a peace project even 25 years after its construction began. “Definitely. When you look at Earth from there, you wonder: What could we accomplish if we could work together as well there as we do here?” he said.

Individual tourists and, on one occasion, even a Russian film crew also stopped by. The American astronaut Frank Rubio and the two Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin were the ones who spent the longest time on board the ISS in one go, 371 days; They returned in September.

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Northern lights in Iceland.

Hardly any privacy, broken toilet.

The view of space and Earth is spectacular, as evidenced by the countless photographs taken on board, but on the ISS it is not really comfortable. When it’s full there is hardly any privacy, the food comes out of a bag and washing up is a hassle. Sometimes a toilet is broken.

Former residents also reported smells and noises that did not always make life aboard the ISS pleasant. Astronauts have to spend a lot of time maintaining equipment and cleaning. Residents exercise in the gym for at least two hours a day to keep their muscles and bones intact in weightless conditions.

The atmosphere of celebration for the 25th anniversary of the ISS is limited, also because these are not easy times for the community that lives in space. Despite maintenance, renovation and modernization, the ISS technology, designed mainly in the 80s, is no longer the most modern: there are always reports of damage, errors, leaks and other problems.

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Furthermore, the current world political situation does not facilitate the operation of the ISS. The ISS is one of the few objects on which the Americans and Russians continue to work together after the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine broke out in late February 2022. Russia mainly complains about the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU after the attack on Ukraine. The European Space Agency Esa withdrew from joint projects with Roscosmos.

The US and Russian space agencies, as well as astronauts, repeatedly emphasize that cooperation continues to work well. There are also joint flights to the ISS, with Russian “Soyuz” capsules and the American “Dragon” from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. The “Starliner” designed by Boeing, however, suffers a new delay due to technical problems.

There is widespread agreement that the ISS could continue to operate together until around 2028, after which it could fall into the Pacific in a controlled manner. Efforts to privatize and commercialize the station have not been as fruitful as expected. Meanwhile, numerous countries, including the US and Russia itself, have announced new space stations of their own, and China already has its own in operation.

Russia is still talking about building its own new station. According to Borisov, head of Roskomos, until 2032 around 609 billion rubles (6.28 billion euros) will be spent on this. Russia works closely with China and India, among others. The construction of the Russian Orbital Station (ROS) will begin at the earliest with the launch of the first module in 2027. The planned highlight is a 3D printer, according to lead designer Vladimir Koshevnikov. The goal is to “print” equipment and interiors directly into the space.

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