Paris. The International Space Station (ISS), the largest structure ever put into orbit, is a model of international cooperation between Russia and the United States.
These are five things to know about this space laboratory, launched into orbit 25 years ago, as big as a football field, and where Russia plans to send a new spacecraft to replace a vehicle damaged by a micrometeorite impact.
What is the EEI?
In orbit at an average distance of 420 kilometers, this space laboratory is used to study the Earth, the Solar System, carry out experiments in a state of weightlessness, especially in medicine, and prepare space exploration missions.
It was built in orbit, module by module, starting in 1998 at a cost of about 100 billion dollars, most of which was borne by the United States.
The ISS has maintained crew members uninterruptedly since November 2, 2000.
The teams, whose missions last from four to six months, are made up of American, Russian and European, Japanese and Canadian space agency crew members, replaced by moieties. In addition, other space agencies or private companies can send their own astronauts on short-duration missions.
This international collaboration involves five space agencies in which 15 countries participate: the Russian (Roscosmos), Japanese (Jaxa), American (NASA), European (ESA) and Canadian (CSA) agencies.
The station is 110 meters long and 74 meters wide (roughly equivalent to the size of a football field) and has a mass of 400 tons. Eight ships can dock simultaneously on the ISS.
On board, there is always at least one international crew of seven, who live and work in six pressurized modules.
The supply is guaranteed by Russian cargo ships (Progress) and Americans (SpaceX y Cygnus).
In case of urgency, the return is made in the Russian ship Soyuz (three places) or the American ship Crew Dragon (four places). The ships that transport the astronauts remain there for the duration of their mission.
After the spectacular leak of cooling liquid from a Russian ship that was supposed to bring back three crew members, Roscosmos must send a new ship on February 20 to bring back two Russians and one American at the end of its mission.
A life in a state of weightlessness
The astronauts’ days are meticulously organized and governed by Greenwich Mean Time: they get up at 6 a.m., lights out at 10:30 p.m. Between both schedules, eight to ten hours of scientific experiences, two hours of mandatory physical activities to prevent muscle deterioration, three hours of free time. On Saturday, cleaning and maintenance. On Sunday, I rest.
Some 200 scientific experiments are carried out on a recurring basis, especially all the weightless experiences that are impossible to carry out on Earth.
To rest the crew members use sleeping bags.
Water is scarce on board: in addition to that carried from the land, the rest is extracted from the air and urine. The water is purified and then used for freeze-dried foods.
An uncertain future
Both NASA and ESA would like to continue the adventure until 2030, but the Russians announced in July that they want to withdraw.
after 2024. For now this has not been made official.
The situation in Ukraine is not strange to this announcement, although Moscow had already suggested that it would withdraw to build its own orbital station.
A departure from Russia would force the Americans to take over all supply flights and in-orbit maintenance of the station (so far handled by the Russian sector) as the lab slowly but steadily decreases in altitude.
After 2030, the ISS will be precipitated into the ocean and must be replaced by private stations.
NASA has already invested in several of these projects, which could be used simultaneously for scientific and technological research and for tourism. This time, without Russia.