International Space Station Facts

The ISS is a big science laboratory on Earth's orbit and
the largest manned object ever built in space.

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Home » Science » ISS

The International Space Station is one of man's greatest technological achievements

International Space Station History

In 1984, US president Ronald Reagan announced his support to build a laboratory in space where people could live. Reagan strongly believed that a project that big could only be realized through international cooperation. He was right...

At the United States request, the European countries decided to join the party. Canada, Japan and Russia also enrolled later. 15 countries are currently participating in the International Space Station (ISS) project. While the United States were responsible for the management of the entire project, the European countries were in charge of the "Columbus" experiment module, Canada was responsible with moving the equipment and providing the robotic arm that would assemble the ISS.

Japan contributed with its own , while Russia was in charge with providing the astronaut's living quarters and a way back to Earth in case of an emergency (the Soyuz spacecraft). The United States coordinated the ISS activities, but also participated with several modules, the truss and the solar array panels.

International Space Station Components

The is an experiment facility in space where 6 astronauts can live at any given time (inside the Living Quarters) and conduct experiments and research activities (inside the Experiment Modules) in low Earth orbit. The ISS also has Solar Panels that generate electricity -- because, obviously, we cannot send electricity through cables from the ground to space, Nodes that connect modules with the Living Quarters and the Experiment Module, the Japanese "Kibo" Module (where four astronauts can work simultaneously) and finally, the Robotic Arm that carries out difficult or dangerous tasks.

international space station altitude
International Space Station as seen from Space Shuttle Discovery (2009). Image Source.

How Big is The International Space Station?
The International Space Station is approximately 110 meters (350 feet) by 70 meters (240 feet), which means that the ISS is about the size of a football field. The International Space Station is so huge that it had to be assembled in orbit, module by module. The first segment was launched at the end of the year 1998 and more than 50 flights by US Space Shuttles and Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets were necessary to put everything together and create one badass space station in orbit.

Other International Space Station Facts

The completed ISS weighs approx. 500 tons, making it 500 times heavier than a small car. At an average altitude of 220 miles above Earth, the International Space Station flies faster than a speeding bullet at 5 miles per second, and completes 18 orbits around Earth each day. The station protects the astronauts inside from the dangers outside: radiation, lack of air and freezing temperatures. Living on the International Space Station can be difficult and fun at the same time, because without gravity the astronauts just "fly" around.

Inside everyone sleeps in bags hanged on the walls, eats dried foods and cannot take showers (because the water would fly in all directions, damaging the ISS computers). On board the International Space Station it's all work and play as the astronauts keep themselves busy at all times. They even work out, a lot -- because otherwise their muscles will go soft fast in the lack of Earth's gravity. You're most likely to find the astronauts doing science experiments (e.g. studying the development in low gravity of plants) or walking in space to connect a new module.

The ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited, after Salyut, Skylab and Mir, and can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. To find out where is the International Space Station right now, follow this link. The station has been occupied at all times for more than 11 years, serves educational and scientific purposes and acts as a staging base for possible future missions to the Moon or even to Mars.

international space station cost
International Space Station and the docked Space Shuttle Endeavour (2011). Image Source.

The ISS is the largest manned object ever built in space. The International Space Station cost is estimated around 100 billion dollars. For half an hour of each orbit, when the space station is eclipsed by the Earth, the crew relies on rechargeable nickel-hydrogen batteries. Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV) travel to the station bringing supplies at every 17 months and also serve as containers for station's waste. The ISS crew is exposed to 1 millisievert (dose of radiation absorbed) each day, which is about the same as a person would get in a year on Earth -- this results in a higher risk of astronauts' developing cancer.

A variety of space junk constantly threatens the ISS at the low altitudes it orbits. Space debris objects are tracked from the ground and International Space Station can avoid them by raising its orbit. China wants to join the ISS program, but the US declined due to military concerns. Similar concerns with Russia were overcome when the Russian crew capsules assisted NASA when its Shuttles were grounded after the Columbia disaster.

There is no long-term funding for ISS missions past 2015, and a de-orbiting is scheduled in early 2016. Prior to that, some Russian modules will be removed from the International Space Station to be reused on a new station known as OPSEK. It would take NASA at least 30 shuttle missions to bring back the ISS to Earth and, besides, the station was never planned to return to Earth, therefore the United States decided to de-orbit it to a remote ocean area. I'm sorry to hear that, but I guess that's life, nothing lasts forever, right?

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