In 1999, the International Space Station project was just getting off the ground.
The first two pieces were linked together in orbit, but the station wasn't ready for residents. Around the world, headlines told people how construction was almost two years behind schedule. The project was on track to run billions of dollars over budget. The outpost faced technical problems from contaminated breathing air to clanking fans so loud they could damage residents' hearing.
In Kazakhstan and Florida, nagging launch woes for Russia's Soyuz and America's space shuttles threatened more delays for staffing the new space lab. The new station orbited Earth unoccupied for about a year.
Some critics howled that this proved the project was too difficult and not worth the investment of the world's time, treasure and talent. Should it be canceled? Or scaled back? Was it a boondoggle buoyed by politicians trying to protect high-tech jobs?
Well, the space station's challenges continued through the decade since. The space lab is over budget and, upon completion, it will not include all of the capabilities once planned. Cost-cutting by Russia and the U.S. forced compromises. A space shuttle disaster in 2003 led to a lingering supply-line crisis that easily could have forced the partners to evacuate the station because of shortages of food, water and spare parts.
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