Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 15 years on: The International Space Station exemplifies global cooperation

NOV. 5, 2015 — Few symbols of global cooperation resonate as much as the International Space Station. Celebrating 15 years of study this week, the ISS is arguably the most dynamic learning and experimental laboratory on (or off) the planet.

With each supply ship that docks there, 250 miles up, another scientist leaves behind the petty politics of Earth to contribute scientific expertise to a mission that transcends national interests. Since 2000, more than 220 people from 17 countries — Mongolia to Ireland, Brazil to India — have added to the orbital laboratory’s multicultural flavor.

Cooperation on the ISS — a series of interconnected modules traveling at 5 miles a second — is expected to continue for at least nine more years between the United States, Canada, Europe, Russia and Japan. Remarkably, many of the scientists who have staffed the platform weren’t even born the last time someone walked on the moon. But instead of engaging in the nationalistic rivalries that fueled the Cold War-era space race, they are collaborating on the technologies needed to travel to Mars in the next decade.

Humans still don’t know enough about physiology in zero gravity, for instance. Although many other experiments have been conducted on the ISS, pursuing its mission costs $3 billion a year. NASA tries to console itself that with each new piece of knowledge the ISS brings humanity closer to a countdown to Mars.

Fifteen years after the ISS went into orbit, it is one of the best things about humanity. NASA’s administrator even believes it should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. As the embodiment of international cooperation and scientific endeavor, it is more than inspiring — it is humanity’s ticket to the planets.

By Pittsburgh Post-Gazette