Human Activities in Space
During 2016, the International Space Station (ISS) continued to be the primary inhabited space laboratory orbiting the Earth. An international contingent of scientists, engineers, and researchers used the ISS for various microgravity-based experiments.
One ISS program, NASA’s human research One-Year Mission, required astronaut…
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was launched to the ISS in April 2016. Bigelow Aerospace contracted with NASA to develop BEAM for $17.8 million in 2013. Originally scheduled for launch to the ISS in 2015, BEAM’s ISS arrival was postponed to 2016 after one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space launch vehicles disintegrated during launch in June 2015.
In 2015, the ISS was the only inhabited space station orbiting the Earth. By July 2015, an international cadre of 220 men and women had temporarily lived aboard the ISS as builders, scientists, and explorers since people first entered the station in November 2000. The crew aboard the ISS continued conducting research in a microgravity environment, as well as observing the impacts of long-term habitation in space on the human body during 2015.
Observers noted that China’s Tiangong-1, the only other space station besides the ISS currently in orbit, remained in place in 2014. China was expected to de-orbit Tiangong-1 two years after it launched in September 2011. No crews were launched to the uninhabited module during 2014.
NASA spent $74.4 billion on the International Space Station (ISS) from the launch of the first Russian Zarya module in 1998 until the end of 2013. Nearly half of that amount was spent on space shuttle ISS construction and resupply flights.
While satellites are essentially a platform upon which useful equipment can be mounted, space stations are a fundamentally different kind of asset. Space stations have been envisioned as permanent or semi-permanent bases where astronauts could take advantage of the microgravity and vacuum conditions to research new manufacturing techniques. In addition, space stations were foreseen as rest, refueling, and assembly points for vessels heading beyond Earth’s orbit.
Another operational space station is the Chinese Tiangong-1. Launched in late 2011, Tiangong-1 is a prototype space station that is being used to develop technologies and techniques necessary for China to move on to a larger, permanently occupied space station in the future. Tiangong-1 was first occupied in June 2012.
In addition to the ISS and Chinese space station, a private U.S. company and Russia are planning on launching their own space stations. Both projects are still in the planning stages, utilizing technology and experience derived from their predecessors.
The first module of the ISS, the Russian Zarya module, was launched in late 1998 and the station became home to its first permanent crew in 2000. With the subsequent installation of major structural components and sections, the ISS reached its “core complete” configuration in 2011. New equipment, modules, and experimental platforms are regularly, a process expected to last until 2015.