The pivotal agreement behind the International Space Station

The History of Innovation

History of Innovation - International Space Station

Reagan’s plan to build a permanent lab in space 

In his State of the Union speech in 1984, US President Ronald Reagan made a bold commitment. Within a decade, he promised, NASA would lead a global project to build a permanently manned station in space. Reagan believed the next era of space exploration would enable “quantum leaps” in science communications and metals research, as well as providing the ability to discover “lifesaving medicines which could be manufactured only in space”. The space race of the 1960s had been so expensive that Reagan reasoned that international collaboration, and private sector participation, were the only ways to deliver his vision. 

The agreement that made space exploration a collaboration

In 1998, fifteen national governments, Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States, and eleven Member States of the European Space Agency, signed a co-operative agreement for the “design, development, operation, and utilisation of a permanently inhabited civil Space Station for peaceful purposes”.

The result: The International Space Station (ISS), a multi-nation construction project that is the largest single structure humans ever put into space. Through NASA’s global agreement, Regan delivered on his promise—albeit four years late. With the launch later that year of the ISS’s first segment, the Russian proton rocket known as Zarya turned an idea that had seemed like science fiction just a few decades earlier to reality. 

True to Reagan’s promise, the ISS research labs have held their end of the bargain, producing a number of breakthrough innovations, from new treatments for breast cancer to microgravity 3D printing.

Discover more inspirational stories or download the full collection of the 50 most innovative agreements

You can also hear from astronaut Major Tim Peake CMG, the first official British astronaut to walk in space in 2016 at our virtual event on 24th November: Defining the Future of Work: Planning for the Unplannable.

Related Topics