Support for Space Station Freedom was, in part, a response to the Soviet space station, Mir. However, the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union happened just as work on Freedom began, leading to US concerns that Soviet space experts could soon be working for rogue states – proliferating space technology to potential adversaries.

In response to this concern, the Clinton administration began engaging Russia on cooperative space ventures, and the Space Shuttle began visiting Mir shortly thereafter. After several successful Shuttle missions to Mir, Freedom was redesigned into the International Space Station (ISS), with Russia being brought into the partnership.

During the early days of the Russian Federation, this success in space was an important and highly visible demonstration that the USA was committed to Russia rejoining the mainstream community of nations. Ironically, a space station that was intended to compete with the Soviet Union had quickly become the most inclusive, international exploration venture in history.

Indispensable partnerships

From a logistical standpoint, the decision to incorporate Russia into the space station programme proved to be a wise investment in the future survival of the ISS. After the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, Russia’s Soyuz crew capsule and Progress cargo ship became the only way to sustain the ISS for over two years, until the Shuttle could return to flight. Now, with the Shuttle fleet retired, the ability to support the ISS will once again hinge on the Russian partners’ capabilities until the USA completes development of new space transportation capabilities.

From a political point of view, the international working relationships built from the ISS programme have proven indispensable to constructing and sustaining the extraordinarily complex space station across nearly three decades. While there have been schedule slips due to funding or technical issues, the ISS has largely been built as envisaged. The ability to overcome these hurdles is in large part due to the greater programme stability that international cooperation provides.

The experience shared by all members of the ISS has further solidified the notion that as modern space programme goals become more sophisticated, the need for international partnerships is essential to success – no matter how advanced any singular space faring nation is today.

Promoting peaceful cooperation

The benefits of cooperative ventures in space are numerous, and as the ISS experience has shown, many of these benefits are seen in advancing peaceful foreign relations.

As the USA seeks ways to work with rapidly developing countries and newly emerging democracies in the Middle East, space cooperation can be an important vehicle for opening dialogue and collaboratively working on a project of high visibility. Fledgling space programmes in countries as diverse as Brazil, India and South Korea are potential new partners for international collaborative efforts in human exploration.

Promotion of the responsible, peaceful, and safe use of space is made possible by working closely with new and traditional international partners. Through engagement and dialogue, actions that could damage important space infrastructures are prevented. With international cooperative agreements, transparent confidence building measures are more easily incorporated into exploration programmes.

Sharing a common foundation

Despite the fact that ISS hardware was being fabricated all over the world, it came together in space – and everything fitted together perfectly first time. ISO, through ISO technical committee ISO/TC 20, Aircraft and space vehicles, subcommittee SC 13, Space data and information transfer systems, and SC 14, Space systems and operations, has created standards that help make this global collaborative work possible, such as : ISO 11231:2010, Space systems – Probabilistic risk assessment (PRA), and ISO 24113:2011, Space systems – Space debris mitigation requirements.

These International Standards enable global partners to communicate with common expectations in mind when setting requirements. Other ISO standards facilitate the communication of data through globally accepted protocols, including : ISO 17355:2007, Space data and information transfer systems – CCSDS file delivery protocol, and ISO 14721:2003, Space data and information transfer systems – Open archival information system – Reference model.

Now is the time

Learning to live and work together in space will invariably improve our ability to live and work together on Earth. Moving forward, it will show the children of the world that our success as a space faring civilization is tied to peaceful cooperation with other countries and respecting the agreed rules of the road.

Exploration will eventually lead us to a destination, but the real benefits will be felt while we are on our way. Beyond this new perspective, as with exploration programmes to date, technology developed for exploration will have spin-off benefits for life on Earth.

The time to begin a new international exploration partnership is now. NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has already begun discussions with potential international exploration partners regarding future roles in a human exploration plan. However, achieving a true exploration partnership will take years, as it did with the ISS.

Dialogue by the world’s space agencies and industries for future international space exploration programmes must occur today to enable the highly sophisticated international space programmes of tomorrow. Now is the time to build on the ISS experience and move forward with new global exploration plans and programmes. Standards, such as those created through ISO/TC 20/SC 13 and SC 14, have enabled this to happen.

What’s it like to live in space ?

Small spaces, no daylight and, most importantly, no gravity ! NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus talks about her experience in the International Space Station.

My sleep quarters, my private space, is about the size of a really small closet ! In it I have my sleeping bag and also various things hanging on the wall with Velcro and straps. A lot of people are curious to know what it is like to live in space.

It is hard to describe, but I have been giving it some thought as I go about my work here. Imagine living in a place where you can never set anything down. If you set it down it floats away and disappears. Nothing is stable.

I get up in the morning out of a sleeping bag that is tied down to the wall. I open my container to get my clothes and they all want to float out. I can use friction as a force in my favor, by packing the clothes in tight, but when I take something out, that loosens up the whole stack and away they go. When I take off my pyjamas, they float around in the crew quarters until I gather them up and immediately fasten them down behind a band or something. Suffice it to say it is easy to lose things up here ! That is why I mentioned earlier how much Velcro is our friend.

If you need tools to do an activity you have to gather your tools, just like at home, but then you need to contain them in something so they don’t float away (and trust me, you do not want some of the smaller tools to float away !). At your work site you have to be able to hold the thing that you are working on in one place while you access the tools. And so forth… This is why it takes longer to do things up here.

So you are probably wondering what happens when you (inevitably) lose something ? Eventually everything turns up at the fan filters. It turns out that the air circulation patterns drive where all of the UFOs (unfastened floating objects) go. Sometimes an item will get stuck in an area of complicated geometry, where the air flow cannot quickly drive it to a fan filter for a few days, but eventually everything turns up The question then is… do you remember losing it in the first place ?

That is a small picture of what life is like in zero-g.

(Extracted from Sandra Magnus online journal entry : “Living in space”) Courtesy of NASA (  

Frank Slazer
Frank Slazer

Vice-President, Space Systems

Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)


Frank Slazer and also serves as President of the American Astronautical Society. He was formerly Director of civil space business development at United Launch Alliance and the Boeing Company. At Boeing he was involved in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, Space Shuttle and International Space Station, and represented Boeing to senior NASA, US Department of Defense, executive branch, international and congressional customers. He most recently developed NASA civil space market focused strategies for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.