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Watch the birth of the International Space Station 25 years ago

Exactly 25 years ago, the U.S. Unity module linked together with Russia’s Zarya module in Earth orbit, marking the official start of the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, NASA shared a video on social media showing the U.S. portion of the mission in which the Space Shuttle Endeavour carried the Unity module to space.

25 years of remarkable achievements.

On Dec. 6, 1998, the six-member STS-88 crew mated Unity, the first U.S. element of the International Space Station, with the already-orbiting Zarya module, beginning the historic assembly of the orbiting laboratory. pic.twitter.com/Z48hGIcPXb

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 6, 2023

Throughout the 12-day mission, Ross and Newman conducted three spacewalks to assist assembly. Four days after mating, the station opened for the first time, welcoming the crew aboard and setting the pace for a future of living and working in low-Earth orbit.

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 6, 2023

“On December 1998, the six-member STS-88 crew mated Unity, the first U.S. element of the International Space Station, with the already-orbiting Zarya module, beginning the historic assembly of the orbiting laboratory,” NASA said in the post on X, formerly Twitter.

The 12-day mission involved three spacewalks by Jerry Ross and James Newman to help with the station’s assembly. Four days after the two modules were connected, the space station welcomed its very first visitors.

More work was needed to make the orbital laboratory habitable, and two years later, in November 2000, the first long-duration stay by astronauts began, marking the start of an uninterrupted human presence on the space station that continues to this day.

The ISS has had many modules added over the years, gradually increasing its size to allow for more science research in microgravity conditions.

But the facility is getting old, and while it’s been undergoing extensive work to upgrade its power systems with the addition of rollout solar arrays, NASA and its international partners are expected to decommission the ISS in 2031.

The plan is to replace it with more modern, privately funded space stations, with at least one possibly deployed before the end of this decade.

For more ISS content, check out this gallery of 25 stunning images showing the station orbiting about 250 miles above Earth. Also, this collection of insightful videos reveals how astronauts live and work on the space station. And if you’re interested in spotting the facility as it passes over your neighborhood (no telescope needed!), this article on how to see the ISS tells you all you need to know.

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Trevor Mogg
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