How to use Personal Voice on iPhone with iOS 17

Ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities last Sunday, Apple released a short film that showcased its Personal Voice accessibility feature, which debuted earlier this year in iOS 17. Personal Voice allows users to create digital versions of their voice to use on calls, supported apps and Apple’s own Live Speech tool.

For those who are at risk of permanently losing their voice due to conditions like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS and vocal cord paralysis, not sounding like yourself can be yet another form of identity loss. Being able to create a copy of your voice while you’re still able might help alleviate the feeling that you’ll never feel like yourself again, or that your loved ones won’t know what you sound like.

All iOS 17, iPadOS 17 and macOS Sonoma users can create a personal voice in case you need it in the future — whether temporarily or for long-term use. I found the process (on my iPhone 14 Pro) pretty straightforward and was surprisingly satisfied with my voice. Here’s how you can set up your own Personal Voice, as long as you’ve upgraded to iOS 17, iPadOS 17 or macOS Sonoma (on Macs with Apple Silicon).

Before you start the process, make sure you have a window of about 30 minutes. You’ll be asked to record 150 sentences, and depending on how quickly you speak, it could take some time. You should also find a quiet place with minimal background sound and get comfortable. It’s also worth having a cup of water nearby and making sure your phone has at least 30 percent of battery.

How to set up Personal Voice on iPhone

When you’re ready, go to the Personal Voice menu by opening Settings and finding Accessibility > Personal Voice (under Speech). Select Create A Personal Voice, and Apple will give you a summary of what to expect. Hit Continue, and you’ll see instructions like “Find a quiet place” and “Take your time.”

Importantly, one of the tips is to “Speak naturally.” Apple encourages users to “read aloud at a consistent volume, as if you’re having a conversation.” After you tap Continue on this page, there is one final step where your phone uses its microphone to analyze the level of background noise, before you can finally start reading prompts.

The layout for the recording process is fairly intuitive. Hit the big red record button at the bottom, and read out the words in the middle of the page. Below the record button, you can choose from “Continuous Recording” or “Stop at each phrase.”

A screenshot of the process of setting up Personal Voice in iOS 17. At the top of the page are the words

In the latter mode, you’ll have to tap a button each time you’ve recorded a phrase, while Continuous is a more hands-free experience that relies on the phone to know when you’re done talking. For those with speech impairments or who read slowly, the continuous mode could feel too stressful. Though it happened just once for me, the fact that the iPhone tried to skip ahead to the next phrase before I was ready was enough for me to feel like I needed to be quick with my reactions.

Personal Voice on iOS 17: First impressions

Still, for the most part the system was accurate at recognizing when I was done talking, and offered enough of a pause that I could tap the redo button before moving to the next sentence. The prompts mostly consisted of historical and geographical information, with the occasional expressive exclamation thrown in. There’s a fairly diverse selection of phrases, ranging from simple questions like “Can you ask them if they’re using that chair?” to forceful statements like “Come back inside right now!” or “Ouch! That is really hot!”

I found myself trying to be more exaggerated when reading those particular sentences, since I didn’t want my resulting personal voice to be too robotic. But it was exactly when I was doing that when I realized the problem inherent to the process. No matter how well I performed or acted, there would always be an element of artifice in the recordings. Even when I did my best to pretend like something was really hot and hurt me, it still wasn’t a genuine reaction. And there’s definitely a difference between how I sound when narrating sentences and having a chat with my friends.

That’s not a ding on Apple or Personal Voice, but simply an observation to say that there is a limit to how well my verbal self can be replicated. When you’re done with all 150 sentences, Apple explains that the process “may need to complete overnight.” It recommends that you charge and lock your iPhone, and your Personal Voice “will be generated only while iPhone is charging and locked” and that you’ll be alerted when it’s ready to use. It’s worth noting that in this time, Apple is training neural networks fully on the device to generate text-to-speech models and not in the cloud.

A screenshot of the Personal Voice recording process, with the sentence

In my testing, after 20 minutes of putting down my iPhone, only 4 percent of progress was made. Twenty more minutes later, the Personal Voice was only 6 percent done. So this is definitely something you’ll need to allocate hours, if not a whole night, for. If you’re not ready to abandon your device for that long, you can still use your phone — just know that it will delay the process.

When your Personal Voice is ready, you’ll get a notification and can then head to settings to try it out. On the same page where you started the creation process, you’ll see options to share your voice across devices, as well as to allow apps to request to use it. The former stores a copy of your voice in iCloud for use in your other devices. Your data will be end-to-end encrypted in the transfer, and the recordings you made will only be stored on the phone you used to create it, but you can export your clips in case you want to keep a copy elsewhere.

How to listen to and use Personal Voice

You can name your Personal Voice and create another if you prefer (you can generate up to three). To listen to the voice you’ve created, go back to the Speech part of the accessibility settings, and select Live Speech. Turn it on, choose your new creation under Voices and triple click your power button. Type something into the box and hit Send. You can decide if you like what you hear and whether you need to make a new Personal Voice.

At first, I didn’t think mine sounded expressive enough, when I tried things like “How is the weather today?” But after a few days, I started entering phrases like “Terrence is a monster” and it definitely felt a little more like me. Still robotic, but it felt like there was just enough Cherlynn in the voice that my manager would know it was me calling him names.

With concerns around deepfakes and AI-generated content at an all-time high this year, perhaps a bit of artifice in a computer-generated voice isn’t such a bad thing. I certainly wouldn’t want someone to grab my phone and record my digital voice saying things I would never utter in real life. Finding a way to give people a sense of self and improve accessibility while working with all the limits and caveats that currently exist around identity and technology is a delicate balance, and one that I’m heartened to see Apple at least attempt with Personal Voice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Apple’s latest tvOS beta kills the iTunes Movies and TV shows apps

Apple’s latest tvOS beta suggests the iTunes Movies and TV Shows apps on Apple TV are on their way out. 9to5Mac reports the set-top box’s former home of streaming purchases and rentals is no longer in the tvOS 17.2 release candidate (RC), now available to developers. (Unless Apple finds unexpected bugs, RC firmware usually ends up identical to the public version.) Apple’s folding of the iTunes apps into the TV app was first reported in October.

9to5Mac says the home screen icons for iTunes Movies and iTunes TV Shows are still present in the tvOS 17.2 firmware, but they point to the TV app, where the old functionality will live. The publication posted a photo of a redirect screen, which reads, “iTunes Movies and Your Purchases Have Moved. You can buy or rent movies and find your purchases in the Apple TV App.” Below it are options to “Go to the Store” or “Go to Your Purchases.”

The change doesn’t remove any core functionality since the TV app replicates the iTunes Movies and TV Shows apps’ ability to buy, rent and manage purchases. The move is likely about streamlining — shedding the last remnants of the aging iTunes brand — while perhaps nudging more users into Apple TV+ subscriptions.

The update also adds a few features to the TV app on Apple’s set-top box. These include the ability to filter by genre in the purchased section, the availability of box sets in store listings and a new sidebar design for easier navigation.

Apple has increasingly invested in video content as it relies more on its services division for growth. Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon debuted in theaters in October, earning critical acclaim and awards-season buzz for the months ahead. (It already became the first streamer to win a Best Picture Oscar in 2022.) Scorsese’s film is currently available to rent or buy in the TV app, and it’s scheduled to land on Apple TV+ “at a later date.” Apple’s high-profile original series include Ted Lasso, Severance, The Morning Show, Foundation and Silo, among others.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Researchers develop under-the-skin implant to treat Type 1 diabetes

Scientists have developed a new implantable device that has the potential to change the way Type 1 diabetics receive insulin. The thread-like implant, or SHEATH (Subcutaneous Host-Enabled Alginate THread), is installed in a two-step process that ultimately leads to the deployment of “islet devices,” which are derived from the cells that produce insulin in our bodies naturally.

First, the scientists figured out a way to insert nylon catheters under the skin, where they remain for up to six weeks. After insertion, blood vessels form around the catheters which structurally support the islet devices that are placed in the space when the catheter gets removed. The newly implanted 10-centimeter-long islet devices secrete insulin via islet cells that form around it, while also receiving nutrients and oxygen from blood vessels to stay alive.

The implantation technique was designed and tested by researchers at Cornell and the University of Alberta. Cornell’s Minglin Ma, a Professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering, created the first implantable polymer in 2017 dubbed TRAFFIC (Thread-Reinforced Alginate Fiber For Islets enCapsulation), which was designed to sit in a patient’s abdomen. In 2021, Ma’s team developed an even more robust implantable device that proved it could control blood sugar levels in mice for six months at a time.

The current problem with SHEATH is its long-term application in patients. “It’s very difficult to keep these islets functional for a long time inside of the body… because the device blocks the blood vessels, but the native islet cells in the body are known to be in direct contact with vessels that provide nutrients and oxygen,” Ma said. Because the islet devices eventually need to be removed, the researchers are still working on ways to maximize the exchange of nutrients and oxygen in large-animal models — and eventually patients. But the implant could one day replace the current standard treatment for Type 1 diabetes, which requires either daily injections or insulin pumps.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Meta’s AI image generator is available as a standalone website

Meta has launched a standalone version of its image generator as it tests dozens of new generative AI features across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The image generator, called Imagine, was first previewed at the company’s Connect event in November and has been available as part of Meta’s AI chatbot.

Now, with its own dedicated website at, the tool will be available outside of the company’s messaging apps. Like other generative AI tools, Imagine allows users to create images from simple text prompts. Imagine, which relies on Meta’s Emu model, will generate four images for each prompt.

The images all have a visible watermark in the lower left corner indicating they were created with Meta AI. Additionally, Meta says it will soon begin testing an invisible watermarking system that’s “resilient to common image manipulations like cropping, color change (brightness, contrast, etc.), screen shots and more.” For those interacting with the image generator in Meta’s messaging apps, the company also introduced a new “reimagine” tool, which allows users to tweak existing images created with Meta AI in chats with friends.

Interestingly, the standalone site for Imagine requires not just a Facebook or Instagram login, but a Meta account, which was introduced earlier this year so VR users could use Quest headsets without a Facebook login. It’s unclear for now if Meta planning an eventual virtual reality tie-in for Imagine, but the company has recently used its new generative AI tools try to breathe new life into its metaverse.

Meta is also testing dozens of new generative AI features across its apps. On Instagram, the company is testing the ability to convert a landscape image to portrait in Stories with a new creative tool called “Expander.” On Facebook, generative AI will also start to show up in places like Groups and Marketplace. Meta is also testing AI-generated writing suggestions for Feed posts, Facebook Dating profiles as well as AI-generated replies for creators to use in replies to Instagram direct messages.

With the latest changes, Meta is also making its 28 celebrity-infused chatbots available to all users in the United States. The company says it will test a new “long-term memory” feature for some of its AI characters so that users can more easily return to previous chats and pick up the conversation where they left off. The chatbots are available in Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.

The updates highlight how Meta has sought to make generative AI a core part of its service as it tries to compete with the offerings of other AI companies. Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that the company would bring gen AI into “every single one of our products.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Ubisoft’s Rocksmith+ guitar-learning app now teaches piano

Ubisoft’s Rocksmith+ guitar-learning platform just got an update that’s sure to please ivory ticklers, as the app now teaches piano. A single subscription allows access to every instrument under Rocksmith’s umbrella, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass and, now, piano.

The newly-updated Rocksmith+ already boasts 400 piano arrangements to practice, with at least 40 more arriving each month. These songs include pop hits like Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” and titles culled from a diverse array of genres, including classical to soundtracks and beyond. These piano-based compositions join over 7,000 pre-existing songs for guitar and bass players.

The app’s available for both mobile devices and PCs via the Ubisoft store, and the update lets you use a digital piano, keyboard or wired MIDI controller. It supports keybeds with 25 keys up to the full complement of 88 keys. You’ll have your choice of practice methods, as the app offers an interactive 3D interface or traditional sheet music. Also, you don’t need any extra gear to get going, like a dedicated microphone.

Reviews for the guitar and bass elements of Rocksmith+ have been mixed, with some publications praising the intuitive interface and others decrying the limited song selection. The app offers a free trial for a week, but subscriptions cost $15 per month, if you go with a monthly plan, or $100 per year. The free trial is only available for the yearly subscription, so exercise caution when signing up and be sure to set a reminder to cancel before the week is up if you aren’t jiving with the software.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Next-gen Logitech G Astro A50 X headphones boast HDMI passthrough switching between gaming consoles and PC audio/video

Gone are the days when passionate gamers used to swear by only a single gaming console. In fact, in the current age is not uncommon to find gamers have a multi-console setup to keep them covered for all the gaming frenzy the tech world has to offer. If you are from this camp then switching your headphones to connect to the PlayStation or Xbox seamlessly is still a craving.

That’s about to change with the Logitech G Astro A50 X Lightspeed wireless gaming headset designed for this very purpose. Unlike Bluetooth multipoint connection available on most flagship headphones, this one employs HDMI connection routed to a base station to do the seamless switching of audio and video to the TV right from the headset with the touch of a button.

Designer: Logitech

The high-resolution audio headphones designed on the original A50 are the fifth generation of the popular Astro A50 console gaming headsets. That no-nonsense switching between PS5, Xbox series X|S and PC is attributed to the in-house Logitech PLAYSYNC technology. The headphones are as good as they get when it comes to satisfying demanding audiophiles and gamers. The 40mm PRO-G Graphene Driver and 24-bit LIGHTSPEED Wireless technology deliver crisp audio performance that’ll make you hear every minute detail.

This flagship gaming headset with an impressive 24-hour battery life (on a single charge) boasts super comfort with an open-back design that promises long hours of gaming without breaking a sweat. The hub of the headphones is the base station that supports 4K 120Hz HDR, VRR and ALLM. Players can mix the game chat and in-game audio to the preferred levels with the on-ear controls and adjustable sidetone. The headphone base also supports multi-connection Bluetooth so that you can take up calls, listen to music, or attend Discord chats without even moving a muscle.

Logitech is also mindful of the environment, hence it gets Carbon Neutral certification too. The A50 X’s body is made out of 35% post-consumer recycled plastic and the paper packaging is sourced from FSC-certified forests. For $350 the headphones are value for money given it’s also a 3-in-1 HDMI 2.1 switcher with wireless audio output and Bluetooth input. You can pre-order them right away in  Black or White finishes with shipping promised by the end of this month.

The post Next-gen Logitech G Astro A50 X headphones boast HDMI passthrough switching between gaming consoles and PC audio/video first appeared on Yanko Design.

Honda will reveal a new EV series at CES 2024

Honda is planning to make a bigger push into the EV market as part of its goal of introducing 30 electric models by 2030. We’ll soon get a look at a new EV series from the automaker, as it’s preparing to show off the lineup for the first time at CES 2024. We’ll get our first glimpse of these EVs during a press conference on January 9. The event starts at 1:30PM ET and you’ll be able to watch it below.

The automaker hasn’t revealed many more details about the new EV series. However, it did note that it will detail "several key technologies that illustrate the significant transformation Honda is currently undergoing." Honda is aiming to only sell zero-emission vehicles in North America by 2040, including battery electric and fuel cell electric powered models.

As it stands, the company has quite a bit of work ahead to hit that goal and perhaps catch up with its more EV-focused rivals. Currently, Honda has the all-electric Prologue SUV (which isn't available to the public yet) and two hybrids in its electrified lineup. In fact, it has killed off multiple hybrid models over the last few years..

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Netflix renews the Squid Game reality show for a second season of (mostly) fake torture

Netflix just announced that it has renewed Squid Game: The Challenge for a second season. The reality show is a toned-down version of the dystopian drama of the same name, a program known for its harsh critique of capitalism. Production on the second season is already ramping up, as casting is currently underway.

The Challenge recreates many of the more popular scenarios from the original show, complete with fake deaths by gunshot when a player exits the game. Despite being a fictional version of the drama, the real-life players were put in dangerous situations while competing. Many players said they suffered injuries during the game, and others claimed that provisions were so scarce that people were forced to use condoms as lip balm, among other complaints.

Just like its fictional counterpart, the cash prize was so large that people were willing to put up with less-than-ideal and potentially hazardous circumstances. The winner of the first season will be announced tonight and will take home $4.65 million dollars, $10,000 for each of the 465 contestants. That’s the largest payout in reality show history. However, its winner takes all, so 464 players get nothing. As an aside, Netflix is valued at around $200 billion.

Despite the controversy surrounding the show, it's obviously a hit. Squid Game: The Challenge has consistently perched atop the streamer’s top ten, likely helped by the abundance of news regarding the precarious conditions on-set. Bread and circuses, baby!

The streamer has also revealed a bit more information regarding an upcoming video game set “in the Squid Game universe.” Netflix notes that players will “compete with friends in games they’ll recognize from the series,” so we know it has multiplayer at the very least. It also leaves us with one glaring question. The Squid Game… universe? The MCU better watch out.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Here’s the cream of the crop from the Day of the Devs Game Awards stream

Day of the Devs is awesome. It’s a showcase that pops up a few times a year to promote promising, in-progress indie games, irrespective of publisher, genre, budget, visual style or release window. It’s curated by the folks at Double Fine and iam8bit, and they’ve been hosting Day of the Devs live events and digital showcases for the past 11 years.

The latest Day of the Devs celebration wrapped up on December 6, the day before The Game Awards, and it featured 20 marvelous and strange independent projects. The virtual show included a few world premieres and release date announcements, but mostly, it was a celebration of creativity and innovation in indie games. This is particularly relevant right now: The Game Awards reignited the debate around the definition of “indie” in November, when its jury voted Dave the Diver into the Best Independent Game category — even though the title is made by Nexon, one of the largest studios in South Korea.

Indie is more than a label; it identifies teams that are operating outside of the AAA system, without a safety net, and it helps players determine where to spend their money. We published nearly 2,000 words on the topic of defining indie games, so read that if you want more juice. But right now, efforts like Day of the Devs feel extra necessary.

Day of the Devs: The Game Awards Edition 2023 offered a non-stop flow of indie goodness, so watch the whole show if you’re into cool stuff like that. We’ve broken out the news and highlights here:

New games

Kind words 2 (lofi city pop)

Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to) came out at both the perfect and most upsetting time — it landed in September 2019, a few months before the pandemic shut down everyday life across the globe. Kind Words is a game about listening to smooth lo-fi beats and writing real letters to real people, and during quarantine, it served as an outlet for thousands of players seeking interpersonal connection, warmth and encouragement.

Kind Words 2 (lofi city pop) is an expanded sequel coming from the original team, Popcannibal. Writing nice letters to strangers is still a core gameplay mechanic, but players are no longer confined to their bedrooms. There’s a whole city to explore, with coffee shops for writing poetry, mountaintops for making wishes on stars, and public spaces filled with people to talk to. The sequel also introduces a social media system with no quantitative feedback — no likes, no popularity metrics, just good vibes.

The Steam page for Kind Words 2 is live now. It's coming in 2024.

Loose Leaf

The studio behind Boyfriend Dungeon is back with something completely different, but potentially just as sexy. Loose Leaf is a tea-drinking, tarot-reading, witchy experience with a serene 3D art style, and Kitfox Games is advertising it as the most in-depth tea-brewing simulator ever created. It looks like an incredibly detailed version of the potion-making minigame from Pottermore, with a side of social interaction in the form of tarot readings.

Loose Leaf is a game about patience, friendships and the magic therein. There’s no release date at the moment, but it has a Steam page.

The Mermaid’s Tongue

SFB Games, the team that brought us Snipperclips and Tangle Tower, has a new project called The Mermaid’s Tongue. It’s part of the Tangle Tower universe and stars Grimoire and Sally, the two detectives from that series. The Mermaid’s Tongue is a murder mystery game about the death of a submarine captain, and players have to interrogate bystanders, investigate their surroundings and solve environmental puzzles.

The Mermaid’s Tongue is heading to Steam and Xbox in 2024, and a Steam demo is out now.

Nirvana Noir

Genesis Noir is one of the most visually striking games of the past few years, and its sequel, Nirvana Noir, looks just as stunning. Nirvana Noir is Feral Cat Den’s follow-up to Genesis, and it offers a jazzy, psychedelic twist on the series. The main character, No Man, is caught in a cosmic conspiracy and players will use dialogue-based detective work to understand the surrounding characters, read between the lines and hunt for clues.

There’s no release date for Nirvana Noir at the moment, but it's coming to Steam, the Epic Games Store and Xbox. It'll be published by Fellow Traveller.

Release dates


Flock looks like a charming, cozy game about soaring around fantastical environments and collecting flying friends, with singleplayer and multiplayer settings. It comes from Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg, one of the creators of Hohokum, and it is incredibly cute. Aside from befriending birds, the game includes a creature guide for identifying new beasts and there’s a wool-collecting mechanic tied to the sheep roaming the lands below. Flock didn’t have a release window until today: It’s due out in spring 2024 on Steam, PlayStation and Xbox, published by Annapurna Interactive.

Annapurna Interactive

Open Roads

Open Roads has been on the indie radar for a while now, and it finally has a release date: February 22, 2024. Open Roads follows a mother and her 16-year-old daughter on a road trip that reveals hard truths about their family and ultimately tests their bond. It looks like an emotional, moving story, and it stars actors Keri Russel and Kaitlyn Dever.

Open Roads comes from The Open Roads Team, a group of developers that split off from indie studio Fullbright. It’s published by Annapurna Interactive and it's heading to PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch. It'll be on Game Pass at launch.

Open Roads
Annapurna Interactive

These look especially dope


Cryptmaster looks like Inscyrption mixed with hell’s cel-shader, and I’m personally very into it. Cryptmaster blends word puzzles with action sequences; players build their arsenals by solving letter-guessing games with text or voice, unlocking the resulting attack skills. It comes from Paul Hart and Lee Williams, published by Akupara Games, and it’s due to hit Steam in 2024.

Akupara Games

Drag Her!

This one’s for the royalty in everyone. Drag Her! is a fighting game featuring real-life superstar drag queens and kings from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Boulet Brothers’ Dragula and beyond, and it looks like a camp ol’ time. Drag Her! stars Alaska, Asia O’Hara, BenDeLaCreme, Kim Chi, Landon Cider and Laganja Estranja, with voice acting by each performer and unique attacks based on their personalities.

Drag Her! comes from Fighting Chance Games and it’s slated for release in early 2025.


Holstin brings horror to a small Polish town in the 1990s, with beautifully dark pixel-art scenes that swap between isometric and first-person perspectives. The developers at Sonka grew up in this world of post-communism religious influence, and they used their experiences to build a game dripping in psychological and supernatural horror. Holstein is an eerie game that values investigation and sharpshooting in equal measure, set in a rare locale.

There’s no release date for Holstin, but it’s coming to PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Switch eventually. A demo showing off its first-person combat system recently went live on Steam, and another demo is coming in 2024.

Home Safety Hotline

As a true ’90s kid, this one is weirdly comforting. Home Safety Hotline is a text-based horror game that plays out on a Windows 96 desktop, complete with pixelated icons and sad gray pop-up windows. Players log on to work at a call center, where they help their clients get rid of spooky, paranormal creatures and occurrences invading their homes.

Home Safety Hotline is heading to PC in early 2024 (a slight delay from its original release date).

Home Safety Hotline
Night Signal Entertainment


Militsioner is essentially 1984, the video game: It features a cop as an all-seeing colossus, sitting watch over a quiet town, alert and eager to throw you in jail. Players have to escape without attracting the attention of the giant policeman, learning when to sneak and how to talk their way out of capture, and exploring empty buildings and solving spatial puzzles along the way.

Militsioner comes from Tallboys and doesn’t have a release date, but its Steam page is live.


If you're still craving more, check out the full Day of the Devs: The Game Awards 2023 show here.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Looking back at 25 years of the ISS

Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the International Space Station’s (ISS) physical assembly in orbit. On December 6, 1998, the crew aboard the space shuttle Endeavor attached the US-built Unity node to the Russian-built Zarya module, kicking off the modular construction of the ISS. A quarter century later, we look back at the milestones and breakthroughs from one of humanity’s most impressive marvels of engineering and international cooperation.

The ISS, which orbits the Earth 16 times every 24 hours at a speed of five miles per second, has been inhabited by researchers for over 23 years. It’s the product of five space agencies from 15 countries. NASA, Roscosmos (Russia’s national space agency), ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) have contributed to the station’s assembly and operation.

From ink to orbit

Its official journey began in the early 1990s when the United States’ Freedom (ordered by President Ronald Reagan in 1984) and Russia’s Mir-2 space station projects were in danger of (literally) never getting off the ground. Freedom was in jeopardy primarily due to a lack of Congressional funding amid rising costs, while Mir-2 was on the brink partially because of financial hardships following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On September 2, 1993, the two nations, each needing an international ally to forge ahead, signed an agreement to combine their programs and collaborate on a joint mission that would have seemed wildly implausible a few years earlier. US Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin inked the pact, marking the formal conception of the cosmic laboratory we know today as the ISS.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin (R) and U.S. Vice President Al Gore appear at a press conference, 16 December 1993. The U.S. and Russia signed a series of space and investment agreements, including one making Russia a partner in the international space station project. Vice President also criticized nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, saying
US Vice President Al Gore (left) and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in 1993
VITALY ARMAND via Getty Images

The following years included a design overhaul to fold Russian technology into America’s existing Freedom plans, a milestone 1995 docking of NASA’s Atlantis to Russia’s Mir station (epitomizing the fruit of the once-far-fetched collaboration), the addition of funding and cooperation from Europe, Canada and Japan in 1996 and Russia’s launch of Zarya a month before the ISS assembly began. That all led to the day 25 years ago when the two nations’ space tech linked together, sounding the death knell for the Cold War-era space race.

The first crewed mission began on November 2, 2000, when NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev stepped onboard. The inaugural crew spent four months in space, laying the groundwork for subsequent crews. (The record for the most time living and working in space was set by Peggy Whitson, who celebrated 665 days aboard the ISS in 2017.)

ISS inaugural crew of Yuri P. Gidzenko (left) William M. Shepherd (center), and Sergei K. Krikalev.

The US Lab Module linked to the station in February 2001, expanding the station’s onboard living space by 41 percent. Four years later, Congress named the US portion a national laboratory. Far more than a symbolic gesture (although it was also that), the designation opened the door to funding and research from a much more comprehensive array of institutions, including universities, other government agencies and private businesses. In 2008, laboratories from Europe and Japan joined the ISS.

The ISS’s construction and expansion from 1998 to 2010 amassed around 900,000 pounds of modules. The station contains about $100 billion worth of gear spinning around the globe.

Research and breakthroughs

Photo taken aboard the ISS during its initial assembly. A module sits upright at center with the Earth behind it.

During the ISS’s more than 100,000 orbits of the Earth, it has ushered breakthroughs in areas ranging from disease research to bodily changes from microgravity.

Studying how proteins, cells and biological processes behave in microgravity has boosted research in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease and asthma. Many of these studies wouldn’t have been possible on Earth. Meanwhile, protein crystal growth experiments have sparked advances in developing treatments for conditions including cancer, gum disease and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

ISS researchers made surprising discoveries about “cool flames,” which can burn at extremely low temperatures. Nearly impossible to study outside of microgravity, the astronauts’ research has challenged our previous understanding of combustion. It may open new frontiers with internal combustion engines (ICE), allowing them to run cleaner and more efficiently.

Studies aboard the space station have contributed significantly to our knowledge of human muscle atrophy and bone loss. (ISS astronauts typically work out at least two hours daily to prevent these conditions.) Studying how prolonged time in microgravity affects muscle deterioration and recovery also applies to Earthbound patients stuck in bed for extended periods. In addition, the research can help us learn more about conditions like osteoporosis, leading to improved preventative measures and treatments. It has also helped scientists better understand broader biological changes in microgravity, which could pay dividends if or when humans colonize Mars.

Water purification systems designed to sustain astronauts over long periods have also borne fruit on Earth. ISS astronauts recycle 98 percent of their pee and sweat using highly efficient and compact systems. This has led to the technology’s use in agriculture, disaster relief and aid provision for less developed areas.

ISS astronauts studied the Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC), a “fifth state of matter” that deviates significantly from known states like solids, liquids, gases and plasmas. In 2018, the ISS’s Cold Atom Lab produced BEC in orbit for the first time. Space’s colder temperatures and lack of gravity allow for longer observation times, helping researchers learn more about the behaviors of atoms and BECs. Not only is this crucial to quantum physics studies, it could aid in developing more advanced quantum technologies down the road.

For more detail on the ISS’s breakthroughs, NASA has a dedicated writeup from 2020.


Expanded cross-section of the ISS, showing its various parts and labels.

The ISS is currently scheduled for decommissioning in January 2031. (Russia currently plans to leave in 2028.) Its late 90s infrastructure is aging quickly, and the space station would grow increasingly and prohibitively expensive to maintain over the long haul. Government and commercial orbital labs will likely pick up the slack in the following years.

When its time comes, the ISS will undergo a controlled deorbit. As for what that might involve, Kirk Shireman, deputy manager of NASA’s space station program, broached the subject with in 2011. “We’ve done a lot of studies,” he said. “We have found an orbit and a change in velocity that we believe is achievable, and it creates a debris footprint that’s all in water in an unpopulated area.”

As Engadget’s Andrew Tarantola wrote about the ISS’s pending demise:

Beginning about a year before the planned decommissioning date, NASA will allow the ISS to begin degrading from its normal 240-mile high orbit and send up an uncrewed space vehicle (USV) to dock with the station and help propel it back Earthward. The ultimate crew from the ISS will evacuate just before the station hits an altitude of 115 miles, at which point the attached USV will fire its rockets in a series of deorbital burns to set the station into a capture trajectory over the Pacific Ocean.

NASA plans to guide any remaining bits into a remote area of the South Pacific Ocean. “We’ve been working on plans and update the plans periodically,” Shireman said. “We don’t want to ever be in a position where we couldn’t safely deorbit the station. It’s been a part of the program from the very beginning.”

NASA 25th-anniversary event

NASA held a live-streamed event on Wednesday to mark the quarter-century anniversary of the Zarya and Unity modules linking up. All seven STS-88 Space Shuttle Mission crew members joined NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana (mission commander) and ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano to discuss the milestone.

You can watch it here:

This article originally appeared on Engadget at