On that day a Roskosmos Russian Proton rocket transported the very first module of the space station, Zarya, into orbit. Just over two weeks later the NASA module Unity was launched aboard space shuttle flight STS-88, and with the attachment of the two units together began a collaboration and partnership between two nations that had once been fierce rivals over the `space race` years to reach the Moon.
The original agreement to construct the ISS was supported by 15 countries in total, including Japan (JAXA), Canada (CSA) and the participating countries of the European Space Agency (ESA). Further construction of the space laboratory continued over the next two years in preparation for the first crew, Expedition 1, arriving in November 2000.
Since that time, over 69 countries have been involved in research projects on the ISS, which serves as a zero-gravity environment for a wide range of tests and experiments. This has helped to advance not only space exploration, but has also provided benefits to life on Earth for humanity through technology transfer. Some areas to have benefited from the space station research include robotic surgery, water purification technology, agricultural monitoring, and remote telemedicine.
Currently, the ISS is due to end its useful life in 2020, although discussions are still ongoing.