It has been 15 years since a Russian rocket lifted the first piece of the International Space Station (ISS) into orbit. NASA celebrates this momentous landmark, in the history of what is now the largest manmade structure ever built in space.

The first module of the ISS, named Zarya, or “Sunrise” in Russian, was one of many pieces that made up the structure. Five different space agencies representing 15 countries worked together on the project and by the year 2000, crews of astronauts were living on the $100 billion space station.

15 years later and the ISS is approximately the size of a football field and is second only to the moon in bright objects that light up the night sky.

15 Years in Orbit For The International Space Station


Space industry leaders have been reminiscing about the day Zarya, which is now used mainly for storage, was launched into space.

“We were in the control center in Houston that night to watch Zarya launch, along with a good number of people from the program,” said Bill Bastedo, who was the launch package manager for the next piece of the space station, the U.S.-built module Unity, in a statement.

“It was actually, for us, exciting to have Zarya on orbit so we could get our chance to execute our mission,” Bastedo, now senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, said in a statement.

The second module, or Unity as it is known, was taken into space on the shuttle Endeavour two weeks later and the two modules were then linked together.

“I was very confident in our ability to dock the two,” Bastedo added in a statement from NASA. “I was most worried about making sure we could verify that Unity, the mating adaptors and Zarya all worked as a system together and we could safely leave it on orbit, because it was going to be about a six-month gap until the next flight. It turns out it was a lot of worry about nothing, because it almost went flawlessly.”

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, who was the STS-88 mission’s commander said: “It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since we joined Unity and Zarya in orbit and laid the cornerstone for the International Space Station.

“I think one of the most enduring legacies will be the international cooperation we have achieved in building and operating it,” Cabana said in a statement from NASA. “It has provided us the framework for how we will move forward as we explore beyond our home planet, not as explorers from any one country, but as explorers from planet Earth. We have seen great results in areas such as biotechnology, Earth and space sciences, human research, the physical sciences and technology being accomplished in this remarkable laboratory in space.”

[Image via hdw.eweb4]