As of today (2 November), the International Space Station (ISS) has been flying over our heads for 15 years, and in that time it has contributed to a number of scientific and medical breakthroughs.
It remains the largest manmade object ever put into space, and will continue to be so for what looks like years to come, and the ISS is clearly one of humankind’s biggest achievements.
While the space stations of old like Mir and Skylab were for the betterment of competing nations, the ISS was designed as an entirely international effort from multiple space agencies.
Since 2000, 17 nations and 220 people have been represented on board the craft, which not only stands as a living monument to human achievement but also as one of the most important laboratories either on Earth and in space.
During their time on board the space station, when not making sure the ISS is in working order, the crew are running important scientific experiments that help us to not only better understand how the human body copes with the rigours of space, but helps us out on Earth, too.
For example, in the past 15 years, researchers have been able to study the bacteria Salmonella in zero-gravity conditions and, with the help of the ISS, were able to find a pathway for bacterial pathogens to become virulent.
This research led to scientists conducting new studies for microbial vaccine development.
From monitoring natural disasters to sending us to Mars
From a humanitarian perspective, the ISS’s SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System (ISERV) monitoring system has been capturing photographs of Earth from space for use in developing countries affected by natural disasters.
Collecting 1,000 images per day, ISERV has been recording floods, fires, volcanic eruptions, deforestation, harmful algal blooms and other types of natural events with its coverage of 90pc of the Earth’s populated areas every 24 hours.
And right now, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are spending one year in space to determine the long-term effects of living in space on the human body.
The comprehensive studies they are undertaking will contribute to us sending people to Mars one day where any mission will likely leave those future astronauts living on the planet’s surface for years at a time.