The International Space Station

In 2000 the International Space Station became a reality.

Nearly 240 miles above the Earth, moving at five miles a second, it gained it's wings: solar panels, in late 2000, they are needed to generate the power for the station to operate, generating enough power to run the equivalent of 30 homes on Earth.

They weigh in normal gravity 17 tons (35, 000 lbs) and are each 120 feet long, longer than the wings on a Boeing 777 jet aircraft and 38 feet across. The wings cost 430 million.

By December 17th 2000 the solar wings will make it the third brightest object in the night sky after the moon and the dog-star Sirius.


Canadian astronomer and world authority on the whole project, Marc Garneau said on the 4th December 2000...

"Suddenly, it's going to look much, much bigger than it already is."


Joe Tanner and Carlos Noreiga 

The station was occupied since November 2000 by an American and two Russian astronauts, joined by Joe Tanner and Carlos Noreiga on the 2nd December. first they erected the 'solar array tower' giving the station a 160-volt electricity supply, then they placed the solar wings into position. During the procedure they had to endure long shifts of hard labour and were only tethered to the station by slender Kevlar cord. Astronaut Marc Garneau manipulated the shuttle's robotic arm shifting the tower into place before Tanner and Noreiga fixed it in with specialised 18 inch cordless power tools, based on tools developed during the 60's to bore into the moon's surface, this led to the cordless power tools now used in many homes on Earth.

Tanner in his extravehicular mobility unitOn their 'extravehicular mobility units' (space suits to me and you), fixed by Velcro, (another NASA invention), is a complicated mass of tools and devices. The top half of their suits are hard and rigid, providing normal air pressure and housing the circuitry and motors to power the rest of their suit. The lower half is flexible for mobility. Gloves are layered aluminised Maylar and Nomex felt. Small mirrors fixed to their wrists enable them to read instrument dials on their suits without the need to bend or twist. Also on the cuffs are 4 x 5 inch aluminium alloy reference cards containing procedures and data for tasks and diagnosing and resolving problems. Kevlar lines with a breaking strength of over 1, 000 lb keep them safe, attached to both waist and wrist, connected to intelligent reels that feed or reel in as needed, keeping them taut and firm. The helmet has two, independently functional lights and on this mission two cameras were also installed to allow Mission Control full viewing capabilities. A straw enables the astronaut to drink and a fruit bar in an edible wrapper is also fixed in the helmet, allowing the user to drink or eat as necessary. On the chest is a pair of steel cutters, able to slice plastic bags or cut through lightweight steel cable or Kevlar cord. Around their waists are strapped-strapped tool belts, with a large hook, pry-bar, forceps, needle-nosed pliers, vice-grip and a set of adjustable spanners. Also on their waist is a 'bends treatment adapter' in the event of decompression sickness this should alleviate the problem until they can get better treatment back inside the station.

While they worked on the panels they had to be careful not to touch the braided wire cables or they could tear the gloves of their suits, with temperatures ranging from 250F in the sun to -170F in the shade they had to ensure complete safety at all times. After all the hours of work to rig up the panels they had one more task to complete, placing a bag with a picture of a Christmas tree upon it on the top-most tip of the tower, a good luck symbol, the idea that an evergreen tree stops any bad luck from befalling the station.

London will be able to see it but it will be low on the horizon and be visible for only a few minutes at dawn and dusk.

I.S.S (click for larger picture)


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Last Updated: 7th September 2001