Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Above our heads, at an altitude of between 278-460 km, cruises the International Space Station, which is the largest man-made object in space. On clear nights you can see it with the naked eye. The uninformed observer might think it looks like just another star. A small dot of light moving across the sky. This small speck of light is going to be what I call home for the ten days I will be in space with the Rakia mission.
The early history of all the 12 apace stations began in 1971, when the superpowers of the day - the Soviet Union (Russia today), the USA and China - all competing in the space race - launched their own separate stations. As opposed to those earlier stations, the International Space Station is special in that it is a symbol of an effort spanning continents, cultures and countries. It is the product of cooperation between the American NASA, the Russian Roscosmos and the Japanese, Canadian and European Union space agencies (all told, 15 countries have a stake in the Station!)
How it all unfolded: the first part of the station was launched into space in November 1998 by the Russians. Over the next two years more parts were put together, enabling the Station to take people aboard as early as October 31, 2000. From then and until this day, over 20 years later, the Station has been continually manned. In total 89 manned spacecraft have docked at the Station, bringing with them 232 crew members and visitors, and another 103 unmanned spacecraft have also docked.
Structure: From the day it was established, the Station has had parts added onto it - laboratory, docking stations, pressure capsules (which expanded the possibilities for going out on “space walks”, robotic arms, 16 solar panels that provide electricity and other logistical units. All these fit into 51 meters of length, 109 meters width and approximately 20 meters height. The total weight is about 420 tons.
Cost: The Station is one of the largest, most expensive international projects in history. It is estimated that the cost of building it totals 100 billion dollars, half of which were provided by the United States. Large sums are also being invested in the maintenance and routine operation of the Space Station.
Motion: In case someone hasn’t understood this yet - this is a structure that isn’t connected to anything. It’s just reeling freely in space. The cleverly devised movement creates a precise centrifugal force which is perfectly in balance with the gravitational pull of the Earth, creating a “stable orbit”. This keeps the ISS in a constant state of flight unless something interferes with the motion, which would interrupt the balance In fact, in a single day this hulk completes 15.7 orbits around the Earth at an average speed of 27,743.8 kilometers per hour.
Observation: The American Space Agency broadcasts the mesmerizing vista of Planet Earth as it is seen through the camera lenses on the Space Station. Want to see what that looks like? check out the following link:
Want to find out how the Space Station benefits mankind and what exactly all these visitors do there? - more on that later!
The First Israeli at the Station
Until today 250 astronauts have arrived at the Space Station and spent time on it. These have been mostly from the 15 countries that are partners to the Station. Israel is not a partner and this will be the first opportunity to work in this special laboratory on behalf of Israeli industry and research. The whole of Ilan Ramon’s mission in space was spent working aboard the Columbia Space Shuttle.
I believe that thanks to the Rakia Mission, more Israelis are going to be able to diversify their activities and find their place in this huge, developing field of international space industry.