Ten years on, and still the brightest light in space

The International Space Station flies over the UK tonight, so keep your eyes peeled

If you look to the heavens between sunset and moonrise tonight, at 6.20pm in London, the brightest object you'll see (assuming it's not cloudy) will be a white spark racing the wrong way across the sky, from west to east. To the naked eye, the International Space Station, humanity's toehold on the edge of the vast reaches of the cosmos, is easier to see than Venus.

This is not some cramped canister like Mercury or Apollo, where every movement must be carefully choreographed. The ISS is more an artificial island in space than a ship; its 14 modules have more elbow room than a five-bedroom house. Together with its 20 solar power panels, it could stretch the length of a football pitch, weighs as much as 330 cars, and is zooming 230 miles above your head at 17,000mph.

Since America's William Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev first floated through the Zvezda module 10 years ago last Tuesday, nearly 200 astronauts, cosmonauts and mission specialists from 15 countries have called the ISS home. Four were born in the UK, though parsimonious Britain is not involved in the project. These crews have conducted 150 spacewalks and 600 experiments. And apart from the 2003 crash of Columbia, it has all gone so smoothly that hardly anyone notices any more.

Its success is encouraging in these days of budget cuts, since it emerged as a compromise when the US, Russia, Europe and Japan found they could not afford four separate space stations. Supporters love to hold it up as an example of international co-operation. But it has not been without hiccups. The final component won't be nudged into place until next year, eight years behind schedule, just as Nasa's space shuttle programme ends.

Whether the ISS, the most expensive object ever built, is worth $100bn is a contentious issue. Proponents point to the science, though they refuse to place a value on it, arguing that much of the return will come in the future. Critics note that a lot of the research has been into ways people can live in space, knowledge that's of use primarily if manned space programmes continue.

The ISS will fly for another decade, and may serve as a staging post to the Moon. Until then, perhaps its greatest contribution is as an inspiration, reminding us how high we can aspire.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
News
A girl plays on a Sony 'PS Vita' portable games console
news
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines