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
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
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

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

PSHE Teacher - Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teachers with a passion for PSHE neede...

Humanities Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

PSHE Teachers needed for exciting project

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teachers with a passion for PSHE neede...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits