Today in History: The Launch of the United States First International Space Station

Today in History: The Launch of the United States First International Space Station

by M.C. Millmn 

On November 20, 1998, the first piece of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched. It was the first part of what would become the largest man-made object to orbit the Earth. 

This large step for mankind was a long time in coming.

On January 25, 1984, during his State of the Union address to Congress, President Ronald Reagan gave NASA the go-ahead to develop a "permanently manned space station." 

The president wanted it done within a decade. He also said the U.S. would open up the project for other nations to join.

"Our progress in space—taking giant steps for all mankind—is a tribute to American teamwork and excellence," President Reagan said. "Our finest minds in government, industry, and academia have all pulled together. And we can be proud to say: We are first; we are the best; and we are so because we're free. America has always been greatest when we dared to be great. We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain. … A space station will permit quantum leaps in our research in science, communications, in metals, and in lifesaving medicines, which could be manufactured only in space. We want our friends to help us meet these challenges and share in their benefits. NASA will invite other countries to participate so we can strengthen peace, build prosperity, and expand freedom for all who share our goals."

  After President Reagan's announcement, NASA made elaborate plans for a Space Station that would have three separate orbital platforms to conduct microgravity research as well as Earth and space observation, to serve as a transportation and servicing station for space vehicles and satellites and also as a staging base for deep-space exploration.

Other nations joined NASA. The European Space Agency (ESA)  and Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA) were eager to provide their own research modules on the space station. 

In April 1985, NASA had to face the fact that not only were their plans overly complicated, but the astronomical costs would not work. 

Going back to the drawing board, scientists redesigned the space station to be simpler, the first of many redesigns required to keep the price of the space station in check. 

President Reagan announced the name of the space station in July of 1988. It was to be called Space Station Freedom and would focus on microgravity research rather than the many facets previously planned.

With the addition of the Russians as partners in 1993, the space station was renamed the International Space Station (ISS). 

The new partnership allowed for seven U.S. astronauts to join the Russian cosmonauts aboard Russia's Mir space station between 1995 and 1998.

By January 29, 1998, partners in the U.S. space shuttle project included Russia, Japan, Canada, and participating ESA countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and The United Kingdom.

On November 20, 1998, the Unity Node 1 module was delivered into space by Space Shuttle Endeavour. 

In July 2000, living quarters arrived for crewmembers who landed on November 2, 2000.

Today, multinational crews live and conduct their research in space on the ISS, which is expected to remain in orbit until 2028. 

Photo Credit: NASA

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