The most expensive movie ever made is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which cost a whopping $410 million. That’s a pretty penny to be sure, but it’s less than half a percent of the most expensive human-made object in history: the International Space Station, whose price tag comes in at $100 billion. Launched in 1998 after more than a decade of careful (and often difficult) planning, the ISS is a collaboration between five space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). It has been continuously occupied since 2000, with a full-time international crew conducting microgravity experiments and other research.
For all that, the ISS almost didn’t exist in the first place. “There was never really a strong push to abandon it but there were threats,” according to Valerie Neal of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. “It was very nearly killed by a single vote at one of the committees of the U.S. Congress.” Getting five space agencies representing the interests of 15 countries to work together was no easy feat, but few would argue that the results — including insights on disease treatments and drug delivery systems, the development of new water purification systems, and a better understanding of how bodies work in space — haven’t justified the financial investment.
We tend to think of everyone in space as an astronaut, but the term (which comes from the Greek words for “star” and “sailor”) usually only refers to those from the United States, Europe, Canada, and Japan. Russian space explorers are called cosmonauts (from the Greek for “universe” and “sailor”). Less well known, but no less catchy, is the term coined in the West for Chinese astronauts: “taikonaut,” which comes from the Chinese word for “space” and Greek for “sailor.” The term is only used in the West — at home, Chinese spacefarers are known as yuhangyuan, which is derived from the words for “space” and “traveler.”