Grown, not built

The International Space Station, usually known as the ISS, is probably the most expensive single structure the human race has ever constructed. The reason being that each new module of it has to be first made here on Earth and then launched into orbit aboard a rocket. The end result is a slightly outlandish looking assemblage of seemingly disjoint pieces. Those modules, however, fit together perfectly and currently form the largest habitable space station in human history.

The ISS has been under continued construction for 14 years now, and following previous space stations like Mir, Salyut and Skylab, it’s the ninth of its kind. Thanks to improved technology and international cooperation, it now has such wonders as the cupola window and internet access, allowing astronauts like Soichi Noguchi to take breathtaking orbital photographs of Earth and then feed them back to Earth live. But like I said, the ISS has been slowly being built for 14 years. How many people even remember how it started…?


(click to orbitalise)

This is the Zarya module. It was adapted from the Russian Salyut program, and was originally intended to be a module for the old Mir station. Instead, however, it became the very first module for the ISS, and was joined in orbit a month later by the American Unity module. Very poigniant. So this unassuming tin can eventually grew into the ISS we now know today. Pretty amazing, huh?


(again, click to orbitalise — and check out all the things that are there.
In this picture, there are three docked spacecraft: Space Shuttle Endeavour, a Russian Progress supply ship, and a European ATV.
The image was taken from a Soyuz craft shortly after undocking.)

Rose: Can you build another TARDIS?

Doctor: They were grown, not built.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to Grown, not built

  1. invaderxan says:

    Wow. That’s fascinating. Presumably this was to test the possibility of Earth-made spacecraft contaminating other planets during exploration missions? Did you ever find out any results? Are they published anywhere?
    And yeah, I think everything I’ve ever done scientifically speaking, has been a pain to set up. But it’s always so worth it for the results!

  2. taram_42 says:

    Not at all!
    I was working on my Masters at Kennedy Space Center Space Life Science Lab and my advisor was collaborating with the ESA. We were basically prepping chips of spacecraft aluminum and depositing and drying a known concentration of viable spores of Bacillus subtilis, a soil bacterium that commonly contaminates outer surfaces of spacecraft.
    The chips were going to be on the outer surface of the Columbus module and exposed for a set period of time. Then we’d get the chips back and rehydrate the spores to see how well they survived and what mutations they experienced. Sadly, I graduated before they came back (but I watched the launch!)
    Like all science, it was a pain to set them all up, we had HUNDREDS of small 1 cm x 2 cm chips of aluminum to prep and dry. But it was one of the cooler things I can say I did.

  3. invaderxan says:

    Oh wow, you were involved in an ISS experiment? That’s incredibly cool. Mind if I ask what it was…? :)

  4. taram_42 says:

    Yay Columbus module! That’s the one that had the experiment I helped set up!

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