Human Activities in Space
Surface systems are those systems that operate on the surface of a planet. Current operational surface systems include the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. These robots were launched in June and July 2003, with the purpose of understanding the history of water on Mars.
A privately financed company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, Bigelow Aerospace is licensing technology from NASA to build an inflatable in-space platform that could enable a number of on-orbit applications. Bigelow’s prototype inflatable platform was launched July 12, 2006, aboard a Russian- and Ukrainian-built Dnepr rocket, launched from Russia’s Yasny Launch Base by International Space Company (ISC) Kosmotras.
The largest in-space platform ever constructed is the International Space Station (ISS). “Led by the United States, the ISS draws upon the scientific and technological resources of 16 nations: Canada, Japan, Russia, 11 nations of the European Space Agency [Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom], and Brazil,” according to NASA.
NASA’s future exploration plans include outposts on the Moon, though many of the details and specifications for these habitats are yet to be determined. According to NASA: “Astronauts will set up a lunar outpost — possibly near a south pole site called Shackleton Crater — where they’ll conduct scientific research, as well as test technologies and techniques for possible exploration of Mars and other destinations.”
An entrepreneurial company, Bigelow Aerospace, is developing an in-space platform based on inflatable technology originally conceived in NASA’s TransHab program. It is building modules that can be used as platforms for in-orbit accommodations, research, and training. Bigelow has launched two prototypes into orbit: Genesis I in July 2006 and Genesis II in June 2007.
The largest in-space platform ever constructed is the International Space Station (ISS). The development of the ISS, led by the United States, “draws upon the scientific and technological resources of 16 nations: the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, 11 nations of the European Space Agency, and Brazil,” according to NASA.[
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Observers noted that China’s Tiangong-1, the only other space station besides the ISS currently in orbit, remained in place in 2014. China was expected to de-orbit Tiangong-1 two years after it launched in September 2011. No crews were launched to the uninhabited module during 2014.
NASA spent $74.4 billion on the International Space Station (ISS) from the launch of the first Russian Zarya module in 1998 until the end of 2013. Nearly half of that amount was spent on space shuttle ISS construction and resupply flights.
Another operational space station is the Chinese Tiangong-1. Launched in late 2011, Tiangong-1 is a prototype space station that is being used to develop technologies and techniques necessary for China to move on to a larger, permanently occupied space station in the future. Tiangong-1 was first occupied in June 2012.