Fifty or so years ago, a popular science fiction show about space exploration began airing. Not a novel subject for the 1960’s; however, it was set apart by the ship’s crew, who at the time were as fictional as the fantastic voyages undertaken. The plot depicted Americans and Russians working together at the height of the Cold War; men, women and people of different races working together as equals at a time when that was far outside of the norm in much of the US.
One of Star Trek’s original cast members, George Takei, remarked during a visit to NASA Johnson Space Center that our world has (partially) caught up to the fictional one he starred in and I tend to agree. While the International Space Station (ISS) is not travelling the galaxy at warp speed making contact with new alien species, it is an incredibly complex engineering feat undertaken by nations from around the globe, two of the major partners being former Cold War rivals. The multinational crew living and working on the ISS is comprised of men and women from these countries that train together, learn each other’s languages and have dedicated their lives to furthering the common goal of space exploration for the good of all mankind.
The discoveries being made possible by the ISS are giving the world a treasure trove of information on the intricacies of long duration space flight; both on the effects of the harsh space environment that the crew endures and the machines needed to sustain them. It is also providing a wealth of information through experiments with Earth applications, as well as observations of the Earth below and the infinitely deep space above.
It has been a privilege to work in the strategic planning team, where I got the chance to see this cooperation firsthand. I had the opportunity to be a part of a team planning ISS logistic support after Shuttle retirement alongside all of the international partners. I also had the opportunity to work with many systems experts and our partners to determine the impacts of possible module relocations, new research module integration and new ports for the next generation of crew vehicles that will help this amazing platform remain in orbit long into the future.
I firmly believe that humanity’s next great ventures into space exploration will be international. So far, space has not had an owner. It belongs to all of mankind and bringing countries together to expand man’s last frontier brings us all closer together as we look down on the tiny blue speck and out at the infinite universe around us. Think of how the Apollo-Soyuz and Mir projects thawed the ice, even so slightly, between the two countries involved despite the fact that at the time they were pledging mutual annihilation.
Inspired by my role supporting the ISS, I hope to remain a part of the fantastic and boundless field of international space exploration after I finish my graduate degree, which will hopefully not only give me a better understanding of aerospace engineering, but also of the way business is conducted overseas and long term relationships are built between governments, agencies and businesses.