Humans already inhabit space. Now there are many doing that. More than traveling and going on rockets, there are actually those who live there constantly, frequently, daily: they do it on the International Space Station, where many astronauts have stayed for months since 2000. This station is the largest in human history established by various international agencies Since 1998 but will end soon.
Announced by NASA for the year 2030, it once again broke the original 15-year age limit. Then, by 2031, it will return to Earth to make a controlled effect in the Pacific Ocean. It would be an end that, though planned, could have environmental impacts on the health of the entire planet and its inhabitants.
However, the good news is that with the end of the International Space Station, there will not come the end of space exploration, but only the beginning, because it is already serving as a base for the formation of new industries and new modules that will work in space and that, in the end, will replace it. It will be, as NASA stated, the responsibility of the commercial and private sector, from now on, and they are already funding some partners, such as Blue Origin and SpaceX, to carry out these tasks.
Russia, for example, plans to have its own station, the Russian Orbital Service Station, in five or six years, and China is the one that’s moving further, with Tiangong, which already has two phases and hopes to launch a third this anus.
In general, this will be what will happen in the last decade.
The current International Space Station
It’s not the first and it won’t be the last. It is the only fully functional one in space currently, but others have existed in the past, such as Skylab, the first American rocket, that orbited Earth from 1973 to 1979. It has been visited by astronauts only three times.
There were also several Soviet Unions between 1970 and 1989, when the Soviet Union was also leading the space race. The most distinctive of these was the MIR, the first to be modular, which was also the first to be permanently inhabited.
Now, as the International Space Station celebrates more than 23 years, and is carried out between the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, it has also connected modules that were gradually built by different countries that only came into contact with each other. Once in space. It’s the largest structure humans have built in space: like a soccer field.
In addition to aiding in space exploration, it has been a key tool for progress here on Earth in the development of medicines, vaccines, treatments, and medical technologies. It allows for real-time monitoring of Earth’s ecosystems and allows for assessment of the health effects of long-term spaceflight, in the case of human plans to reach Mars soon. That’s to mention a few of the multiple experiments: over 2,000 research done in a microgravity lab alone, for example.
The end is coming
Originally, the International Space Station lasted 15 years, but now it is 23. In theory, it’s only approved to operate until 2024, but NASA announced last month that it expects to retire the station until 2030 only because it’s still operational and, in fact, in its phase. more productive. But it is true that there are limitations and deterioration, they themselves realize this: there is a slowdown, the International Space Station burns on one side due to solar radiation, and on the other it freezes, glass and other materials burn out or decompose, and in the end, it will stop working. The machine can’t be reused, or used for something else, but the end, inevitably, will be its collision with Point Nemo, the place farthest from the Pacific mainland known as the Spaceship Cemetery.
Some of its units will be combined with other future stations. Although NASA says it will be in 2030, it may be before that, for this reason, the other partners have not mentioned the dates, but they are aware that after 2024 there will be no safety.
Russia, for example, reported that 80% of its division has expired systems. Among the hazards: Severe damage could result in uncontrolled free fall, as happened to Skylab in 1979, whose pieces ended up scattered all over Australia; Leaving it in space could be a potential danger as space debris because it would be debris that could damage other missions or satellites; There can be damage to the marine environment; And perhaps most worrisome: some of the toxic or dangerous substances and organisms found on the International Space Station could re-live through the atmosphere and cause diseases, viruses, and other damage to systems.
There are many candidates and NASA has already supported several initiatives financially and will donate contracts of up to $400 million. Some are from Northropp Grumman and Axiom Space (associated with SpaceX) who have already secured contracts to build habitable units from 2024, Blue Origin which has already announced that it has been working since last year on Orbital Reef, which can house 10 people in an area of 830 square feet. Cubic meters. And to Nanoracks, which has partnered with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin to develop the “first free-to-fly commercial space station” that it will call Starlab and be operational by 2027.
The US agency will save more than $1,000 million by giving this responsibility to the private sector and in the near future will only have to pay for the services and spaces it needs instead of maintaining the entire structure. China, for its part, which has never been associated with the International Space Station, is the most advanced: they have already launched the first stages of their station, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 in 2011 and 2016, respectively, and they hope to launch the third stage at the end of the year with shipments of two more units. .
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