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History of the ISS project

In 1982, NASA started conceptual design of International Space Station

In May 1982, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established a task force (Space Station Task Force) in NASA headquarters and started a conceptual design of an International Space Station (ISS). This program was planned as a manned space project to follow the Space Shuttle program, utilize space environment in the future, and serve as an intermediate base for exploration of the moon and other planets. Also, NASA decided to implement this project through international cooperation. In the middle of 1982, NASA approached Canada and other friendly European countries and invited them to participate in the project from the stage of investigation and research. In June 1982, then NASA Director Beggs requested Mr. Nakagawa, then Minister of the Science and Technological Agency (STA) of Japan, to participate in the program.

Japan believed that it was necessary to participate actively in this program. As a result, the Government of Japan decided to establish a Space station Program Task Force under the Space Development Committee, which is a consultative organization of the Prime Minister, and decided to study the basic framework of participating in the ISS program.

In NASA's Space Shuttle program, the Canadian Space Agency developed a remote manipulator system in which a robot arm is mounted in the cargo bay of a Space Shuttle and controlled from inside the Shuttle to perform tasks in and out of the cargo bay. Canada considered the ISS program as an extension of the experience in Space Shuttle program, and started studying the ISS program.

The European Space Agency (ESA), a space development agency composed of European countries, had a long-term project to develop a space system which enables space experiment and space observation. In cooperation with NASA, ESA had already conducted space experiments utilizing Spacelab, a manned space laboratory which is mounted on a Space Shuttle to enable performing experiments in space. Also, in order to perform experiment requiring longer times than available in Spacelab, ESA was developing the European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA), an unmanned platform launched and retrieved by a Space Shuttle, by itself. ESA considered the ISS program as an extension of the EURECA program and started studying the issue from both sides, i.e., utilizing the ISS and participating in the program with European industries.


In 1984, President Reagan declared GO for ISS program, and called for cooperation against foreign countries.

In his January 1984 State of the Union Message, then US President Reagan stated; "Our next large target is to develop a new frontier based on the pioneer spirit. I command our nation to construct a permanent manned space station within ten years." This was the official start of the ISS construction. Also, at the London Summit which took place in June 1984, President Reagan invited the summit countries to participate in the ISS program.

The Summit countries recognized that ISS program will bring about technological development that will strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life. They also mentioned that they will consider participating in this program.


In 1985, Japan, Europe, and Canada decided to participate in the ISS program.

In January 1985, at the Directors' meeting, ESA accepted the Columbus program, which is included in the European Long-Term Space Program, as ESA's own space station program. ESA decided to execute this program in cooperation with the ISS program. In June 1985, ESA signed the MOU covering the ISS preliminary design.

Also, in April 1985, Canada signed the MOU for the ISS preliminary design. Meanwhile in Japan, the Space Development Committee's Space Station Taskforce studied the basic idea of participating in the preliminary design activities. In April 1985, the "Basic Framework of Participating in the Space Station Program" was established .

In May 1985, the Science and Technology Agency (STA) of Japan and NASA signed the MOU for the Space Station Preliminary Design, and Japan started the preliminary design at that point. Also, in August 1985, the Space Station Taskforce was established in the Space Development Committee and started to study major items in the ISS preliminary design stage, the evaluation of the results, and the basic policy for the post development stage.


In 1988, the Inter-Government Agreement among participating countries signed, and the development phase was started.

Preliminary design began under the concept that ISS would be utilized for space experiments in the field of material and life sciences, utilizing features of space environment such as microgravity and high vacuum. Furthermore, it was supposed that ISS will serve as an intermediate base for exploration to the moon and planets in the future or as a facility where malfunctioning satellites could be repaired. Various configurations were considered under such assumptions.

Later, NASA reviewed the design and decided to develop the ISS in two steps, Phase 1 and Phase 2, to reduce the budget for developing ISS itself and to lesson the workload of crew extravehicular activities.

Negotiations to promote Phase 1 development with space experiment as its primary target were then conducted. In September 1988, an Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) was signed among participating countries. Later, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between NASA and executing organizations of each country. This IGA was approved by the National Diet of Japan in June 1989.

From this point on, the ISS plan advanced from the preliminary stage to the development stage, and the ISS was named "Freedom."


In 1993, ISS was redesigned and Russia joined the ISS program.

Even after the development was started, participating countries struggled to maintain the necessary budget. They redesigned and revised schedules, and as a whole, development was promoted to the initial stage of detailed design.

In February 1993, the US Clinton Administration directed NASA to totally reconsider the ISS program, as a part of the redrafting of the national budget.

In June 1993, President Clinton adopted a simplified plan of "Freedom." Following this decision, NASA design team studied the new plan and as a result established a plan named "Design a."

Meanwhile, negotiations between the US and Russian governments proceeded on the theme of cooperation following the end of the cold war. In the process of this negotiation, Russia's participation in the ISS program was suggested, and the US consulted the participating countries about the new situation.

In response to this matter, on Dec. 1, 1993, Japan announced that Russia's participation to the ISS program is reasonable.

On Dec. 6, 1993, in the IGA conference held in Washington, an official decision was made to invite Russia as one of the partners of the ISS program, and later, Russia accepted the joint invitation by Japan, Europe, and Canada.


From 1994 to present: Inter Governmental Negotiation on Russia's participation

In March 1994, the total ISS structure and development schedule, including elements provided by Russia, were decided.

On January 30, 1998, in Washington, DC, USA, a new ISS IGA with new members, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland, was signed. Under this IGA, the total number of countries participating in the ISS program reached to fifteen. A related MOU was signed on February 24, 1988, between Japanese ambassador Saito and NASA Director Golden.


Last Updated : May.25, 1999

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