Evolution of the International Space Station

USA Today produced this video showing ten years of changes to the International Space Station. As Kevin Kelly says: "I realized from watching this wonderful summary that space stations will be like cities: ever changing, ever accumulating, ever growing. Some may grow to be a century old, full of new layers but and contain ancient parts they cannot shed."

International Space Station Comes Together


  1. Neat, I guess. I think I remember seeing in Nature that the ISS is scheduled to be “de-orbited” in 2012 (although this could change). Has the ISS accomplished much other than providing fodder for USAToday’s graphic artists?

  2. what an extravagant waste of time and money, the shuttle program included.

    i’m reminded of a wired interview of james cameron some years ago where he advocated exploration and was critical of NASA’s strageties post apollo. to paraphrase:

    space is a vacuum, it’s utter nothing-ness. to go to space and back is to do little if nothing at all. now when the shuttle goes to orbit, it does so at around 16,000 mph. to say nothing else, it seems that for the last 30 years, NASA has been going “nowhere” remarkably fast.

    1. I think you’ve missed the half the point of space exploration, which would be scientific research. Space is more than a vacuum: something we could easily recreate on Earth. Space is an environment of microgravity, cosmic rays, and near absolute-zero temperatures. Doing experiments in this environment teaches us about nature and the universe we live in.

      The astronauts of the 60’s and 70’s were lucky to have survived their bold expeditions into space using the technologies available at the time. While I look forward to the day that humans can go to Mars, and beyond, I’m not so narrow-minded as to believe that human exploration is merely about “going places”. It’s also about expanding the horizons of our knowledge. The ISS has accomplished that goal though international cooperation. I feel that’s worthwhile.

    2. …and trying to sail the western route to India was also a huge waste of time and money. So was the vikings exploration to the north and west.
      As is sending a submarine into the marianas trench.
      So was pouring money into rockets in the fifties.

      then something happens. You discover a few countries your culture can expand into. You discover resources which can help innovation. You discover new navigation techniques to make the rockets go where you want (inertial navigation) which goes into all large aircraft and ships and makes them much safer. Then you use the rockets to change the landscape of communications and navigation (satellite tv, telephone relays and then also GPS)

      You do science in the place where the rockets can take you, exploring effects which cannot be explored in gravity. Some of which concern the human body and may affect all of humanities standard of living in the coming centuries.
      And possibly gives us the chance to get necessary resources, as well as monitor and possibly modify the changes occurring in our biosphere. And possibly set up human outposts further away (eventually).

      Most human endavours start off as strange time wasters. Many then show their true worth piece by piece.
      Sure, the Shuttle program is probably not the best way of getting people up there. It’s heavy, inefficient, hard to maintain and expensive. That does not mean that the idea of having an outpost above is bad. just that parts of the operation could have been done better. Same goes for the ISS.

  3. As awesome as it is, the disappointing part is reading about all the “canceled modules” that aren’t going to make it up there. The X-38 Crew Return Vehicle, kind of a half space shuttle, would’ve been cool and have enabled larger numbers of permanent inhabitants on the station. Also the TransHab inflatable module, which NASA ended up selling the technology rights to Bigelow Aerospace, who hopefully will succeed in the commercial space spectrum as they’ve already launched 2 test satellites with the technology. Its unfortunate that we can’t (or won’t) simultaneously support the low earth orbit ISS stuff and Moon/Mars at the same time.

  4. as a theoretical mathematician, i have to side with the idealists here. most emphatically. much that once seemed “useless” has been found to be otherwise. number theory growing up into cryptology springs to mind.

    i dig a continual human presence in space. we can do the solar system at least…and with existing technology. nasa’s weapons research makes me sad, and i’ll not be working for them. but that’s just cultural context. the research should proceed unabated!

  5. Nice Video; Bummer that it was not a SVG or flash.

    Kurt Mac,
    You missed a bit about this.
    Transhab was prohibited by the republican congress in 2000. At the same time, they prohibited NASA finishing work on VASMIR (which is now in Costa Rica). Both were horrible choices, but, as you pointed out, Bigelow is about to make hay on this. So will ad astra. These may allow for private space.

    Probably the most important unit was canceled by Bush, would have been the centrifuge. It would have allowed us to test small life (rats and smaller) at various G forces for say 3-6 months at a time. By using that, we could have tested how life would be on the moon (1/6 G), Mars (2/3 G), and perhaps even higher Gs of say 2G.

    What is interesting, is that ISS is starting to be useful. For starters, a new salmonella vaccine was developed because of work on the ISS. The approach will allow for many more bacterial vaccines. In addition, it is thought that a number of materials will be easier to study. One that comes to mind is Aerogel. Aerogel is the worlds best insulation. Right now is is opaque. BUT, work is continuing to make it clear. If that works, it will be used in windows. At this time, even the best windows have low R values. If this is used in windows, it will make them better than the walls.

  6. The ISS may be the single greatest accomplishment in the history of humankind.

    And the USA today animation was pretty cool too.

  7. Money for NASA is very limited. Resources put to ISS take away from what could be spent doing really interesting things. I vote for a massive effort to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars. This would be accomplished more quickly and cheaply using unmanned missions.

    1. That effort has been underway since 1976. The ISS may be overpriced for the amount of science we’re getting out of it, but that doesn’t mean NASA should only do one thing at a time.

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