The ISS: Enabling 20 Years of On-Orbit Scientific Research

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a continuous human presence on the International Space Station. Here is a look back at how the idea became reality.

At his State of the Union address in January 1984, President Ronald Reagan set a goal for the U.S. – to build an International Space Station within 10 years.

Through the 1980s, NASA fought back attempts to reduce the budget for the station. In 1988, the U.S. invited Canada, Japan and the European Space Agency to join the project and in 1993, the U.S. asked Russia to join as well.

On Nov. 20, 1998, a Proton rocket launched the Russian module Zarya, the first segment of the ISS. By Dec. 4, the U.S. launched its first U.S.-built component, the Unity module on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Two days after its launch, the ISS crew mated the two spacecraft together using the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm.

In November 2000, the first ISS crew is launched to the space station. There they continued to assemble some of the largest components that made the ISS what it is today – including the P6 photovoltaic module, a 17.5-ton payload that would collect, generate, store and distribute power to the station.  

The following February the Destiny module, which became the U.S. laboratory for conducting scientific experiments in space, was launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis.

See more about the ISS in Aviation Week & Space Technology's 100+ year archive.