‘Perfect international cooperation’: ISS crew celebrates space station’s 15th anniversary

© NASA
The International Space Station (ISS) is celebrating 15 years of orbiting the Earth with a multinational crew onboard. Expedition 45 has described the ISS as a “perfect example of international cooperation,” adding that in space everyone hears each other.

The ISS, which travels at a speed of 5 miles per second, is a “world-class orbiting laboratory,” NASA’s Scott Kelly, the station’s commander, said during an anniversary conference.

Scott stated that he is set to witness over 400 different scientific experiments while aboard the ISS. “We need to understand [how to] live in low-Earth orbit [to] enhance our capability to explore further out into the solar system. And then there is an international aspect – what really held this partnership together through some trying times. With budget challenges and things like that, international partnership is the glue that binds this program together.”

The space station is being hailed as an international relations success, with NASA chief Charles Bolden saying that the project is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko agreed: “A lot is being said that ISS is a perfect example of international cooperation, of unification of efforts of different people, a unification of technologies, and science. The main achievement is that people on the ground sometimes fail to hear each other, here in space, it is impossible. Everyone is important here and the success of the program, and sometimes even life, depends on what each and every one of us does,” he told journalists.

Meanwhile, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui said he sees himself as a “bridge” to improve teamwork aboard the station.

“What is great about ISS is that although astronauts have different backgrounds, we respect each other and we work in collaboration. If such a unique culture is practiced on Earth, it would be a much better place,” Yui said.

Astronauts spent a lot of time talking about hundreds of experiments that they are part of during their time on the ISS, revealing that a lot of the research focuses around a mission to Mars.

“The space station is really a bridge, a test bed for the technologies that we need to develop and understand in order to have a successful trip to Mars … A lot of [the experiments] are critical to our understanding how human physiology adapts to this micro gravity environment. And the things we have to do to protect human health during a long trip to Mars, with respect to muscle, bone, immune system and radiation,” NASA’s flight engineer Kjell Lindgren said.

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The ISS is celebrating its 15th birthday in good shape, Kelly said, saying that it requires fairly low maintenance and there are plans in place to keep the ISS working and functional. “The last time I was here it was four to five years ago and it does not seem to me that I am doing any more maintenance on the space station than we did then,” he said.

“Obviously these things age and over time we will have more maintenance requirements. The good news is that we planned for that. We have a lot of spare parts. We have plans for keeping this space station flying a long time into the future.”

When the ISS was created there was a debate over the name, Kelly explained, adding that no one could agree on anything. The name “Alpha” was largely used at the time. “The name International Space Station really represents what it is, so in some ways maybe it is a better name than something like Alpha,” Kelly said.

READ MORE: No politics in space: ISS example of what Russia, US can achieve working together

When it comes to similar projects in the future, commercial space stations should not be ruled out, Kelly said at the conference, adding that it is doable. “It will be fantastic to have researchers of all different flavors be able to go to the space station and do their research and for people to go there to experience the majesty of space.”

Russia’s Kononenko talked about the SREDA’s environment program that studies all the micro accelerations that impact the structure of the station to prolong ISS’s resources and further use.

© NASA

Some of the questions asked by the media focused on personal experiences aboard the ISS. Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko described his second spacewalk, comparing it to an hours-long jump with a parachute. “I was a bit calmer the second time. Didn’t have as many emotions. I can compare it to a parachute jump when you are approaching the hatch and just one step is left to go down into the abyss,” he said.

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To celebrate the anniversary, crewmembers are planning to have a meal together and talk about the successes of the past as well as looking to the future, Japan’s Yui said when answering the last questions of the press conference.