International Space Station Is Manned Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts boarded the International Space Station and activated its life-support systems, thus beginning a successful four-month tour of duty that provided the station with a permanent crew for the first time. The mission initiated a long period of continuous occupation of the station, which became a significant medium of international cooperation in space.

Summary of Event

The International Space Station (ISS) was the ninth inhabited space station to orbit Earth, following six Salyuts (the first of which was launched in 1971), Skylab (launched in 1973), and Mir (launched in 1986). It was originally conceived as the U.S. Space Station Freedom, a scheme announced by President Ronald Reagan Reagan, Ronald in 1984, but the project ran into difficulties when its initial budget was entirely expended in the planning stage. A series of funding cuts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the early 1990’s resulted in the project’s being reenvisaged as an international venture; the Freedom project was then fused with the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Mir 2 project, the European Space Agency’s Columbus project, and the Japanese Experiment Module project. The Canadian, Brazilian, and Italian space agencies joined the program almost immediately, and nine more national agencies were subsequently recruited to it. International Space Station Space stations;International Space Station Astronauts and cosmonauts [kw]International Space Station Is Manned (Nov. 2, 2000) [kw]Space Station Is Manned, International (Nov. 2, 2000) [kw]Manned, International Space Station Is (Nov. 2, 2000) International Space Station Space stations;International Space Station Astronauts and cosmonauts [g]Central Asia;Nov. 2, 2000: International Space Station Is Manned[10810] [g]Kazakhstan;Nov. 2, 2000: International Space Station Is Manned[10810] [c]Spaceflight and aviation;Nov. 2, 2000: International Space Station Is Manned[10810] [c]Science and technology;Nov. 2, 2000: International Space Station Is Manned[10810] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 2, 2000: International Space Station Is Manned[10810] Shepherd, Bill Krikalyov, Sergei Gidzenko, Yuri

The first phase of the construction program was initially scheduled to be completed in 2006. The first section, the Zarya cargo block—which would provide electrical power, storage, propulsion, and guidance functions—was placed in orbit in November, 1998. Two more sections were added to it before the first three-man crew was sent up on Expedition 1: The first was the U.S.-built Node 1, also known as the Unity Module because its main function was to provide docking ports to link the other modules together and integrate them into a whole; the other was the Zvezda service module, which comprised the living quarters and associated life-support and communications systems.

Expedition 1 was launched by a Soyuz TM-31 on October 31, 2000, from the Baykonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (the site from which Yuri Gagarin had been launched to become the first man in space forty years previously). The initial crew’s mission commander, American astronaut Bill Shepherd, had become the ISS program manager in 1993, having previously made three shuttle flights. The highly experienced flight engineer, Sergei Krikalyov, had become world famous by virtue of being aboard Mir Mir space station when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991—a political upheaval that eventually resulted in his tour of duty lasting nearly 312 days. Krikalyov went on to set a new career record for time spent in space when he returned to the ISS on Expedition 11. The youngest member of the Expedition 1 crew, Yuri Gidzenko, had also served on Mir in 1995-1996; he had begun training for the Expedition 1 mission immediately thereafter.

After Expedition 1 docked with the ISS at 4:21 a.m. eastern standard time, Shepherd made the customary enthusiastic declaration about “starting a long journey” and then asked, on behalf of his fellow crew members, for permission to give the space station a name. Although NASA had previously resisted the temptation to name the station, because the implications of a name meaningful in one or a few languages might detract from the project’s broad international image, the ground controller agreed that the suggested name, Alpha, should be “temporarily adopted.” In fact, the adoption did prove temporary; the name did not stick and the station continued to be known universally as the International Space Station.

Shepherd, Krikalyov, and Gidzenko accomplished numerous assembly tasks during their tour on the ISS, in addition to activating the critical life-support systems and proving their viability; these included the augmentation of the ISS’s solar heating system and the integration of the Destiny Laboratory Module—the fourth of a projected ten—into the structure. The Destiny Module contained a more elaborate life-support system than Zvezda, but its primary function was to host zero-gravity research in various fields, including biotechnology and medicine as well as physics and engineering. It was intended to carry forward the various scientific inquiries begun on Skylab as well as original projects. The work the Expedition 1 crew did, in making the station habitable and beginning the scientific work to be carried out there, set the stage for a continuous and productive human presence in orbit for at least fifteen years.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenkov (left), U.S. commander Bill Shepherd (center), and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov (right) inside the International Space Station.


After their tour of duty, the first three occupants of the ISS returned to Earth on the space shuttle Discovery in March, 2001, undocking from the station on March 19 and landing on March 21. The Discovery had carried the replacement crew to the ISS—a crew that reversed the pattern of the earlier one, with a Russian commander and two American flight engineers—but the members of the original crew had entertained three other shuttle crews during their tour in addition to unloading two unmanned Russian Progress supply vehicles.

The planned series of Expedition missions to the ISS was abruptly interrupted by the Columbia shuttle disaster of February, 2003, after which all shuttle flights were suspended for more than three years. The proposed completion date for the first phase of the ISS’s building program had to be put back until 2010; construction was halted and the permanent crew was temporarily cut from three to two. The station was serviced exclusively by Russian rockets until the shuttle program was resumed.


Although the ISS project suffered a serious setback between 2003 and 2006, it did not have to be abandoned, either temporarily or permanently, because the groundwork done by the early crews was sufficient to allow the station to be maintained at a low level. By 2007, when shuttle flights became regular events again, the project had begun to make renewed progress toward the completion of its first phase—testimony to the success of the project’s planning and the success of the early Expedition missions.

The most significant aspect of the ISS project was its international nature. It became a spectacular example of the ability and the willingness of the United States and its former Cold War adversaries to work together in a common endeavor. In addition, the participation of so many other national space agencies—even those whose involvement was largely symbolic—provided a dramatic representation of space exploration as an endeavor of the entire human community rather than of competing nations.

The involvement of Sergei Krikalyov in the station’s first crew carried an additional symbolic weight by virtue of his former status as “the last Soviet citizen,” marooned on Mir while the government that had sent him into space collapsed, necessitating his successful recovery by representatives of a new world order. Although the use of the ISS to host the first “space tourist,” millionaire Dennis Tito, Tito, Dennis in 2001 seemed frivolous to those who saw the project as a scientific endeavor, that too became a significant component of the station’s symbolism as a collective effort extending beyond a straightforward collaboration between American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. Although the visibility of the ISS from Earth was compromised by the interruption of its construction, the resumption of the station’s elaboration ensured that it would be visible to billions of Earthbound eyes by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. International Space Station Space stations;International Space Station Astronauts and cosmonauts

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bond, Peter. The Continuing Story of the International Space Station. London: Springer-Verlag, 2002. One of the most substantial books available on the project, published in association with a companion volume on its historical background, Creating the International Space Station, by David M. Harland and John E. Catchpole.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kitmacher, Gary, ed. Reference Guide to the International Space Station. Burlington, Ont.: Apogee Books, 2007. Provides a succinct account of the station and its history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Launius, Roger. Space Stations. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2003. Presents an enthusiastic account of space stations as “base camps to the stars” and sets the ISS in its historical context. Lavish illustrations provide a visual account of the space station as a cultural icon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Logsdon, John M. Together in Orbit: The Origins of International Participation in the Space Station. Washington, D.C.: NASA History Division, Office of Policy and Plans, 1998. Brief NASA monograph gives a detailed account of the development of the project.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lusted, Marcia Amidon. The International Space Station. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Lucent Books, 2005. Brief volume aimed at young adult readers presents basic information on the ISS.

Russians Launch the Salyut Space Station

Skylab Inaugurates a New Era of Space Research

European Space Agency Is Formed

Columbia’s Second Flight Proves the Practicality of the Space Shuttle

Spacelab 1 Is Launched Aboard the Space Shuttle

Two Women Walk in Space

Challenger Accident

First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched

Astronauts Repair the Hubble Space Telescope

Space Shuttle Docks with Mir

Categories: History Content