National Aeronautics and Space Administration
International Space Station
Clearly visible with the naked eye in the night sky,the expansive International Space Station is aworking laboratory orbiting 240 miles (390kilometers) above the Earth and is home to aninternational crew.It is the most complex scientific and technologicalendeavor ever undertaken, involving five spaceagencies representing 16 nations. Once completed,this new research outpost in space will includecontributions from the United States, Canada,Japan, Russia, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, France,Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain,Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. As a research outpost, the station is a test bed forfuture technologies and a research laboratory fornew, advanced industrial materials, communicationstechnology, medical research and much more.On-orbit assembly began in 1998 with the launch ofZarya, and today the station provides crewmembers with 15,000 cubic feet of habitablevolume – more room than a conventional three-bedroom house – and weighs 454,000 pounds. Thestation’s solar panels exceed the wing span of a777 wide-body jet and harness energy from the sunto provide electrical power to all stationcomponents and scientific experiments.The station now includes the Russian-built ZaryaModule and the Zvezda Service Module, whichcontain the station’s living quarters and life-supportsystems; the U.S.-built Unity connecting Module,providing docking ports for several stationcomponents; the U.S.-built Destiny Laboratory,which expands the station’s scientific capabilitieswith experiment compartments that allow nearlycontinuous scientific research and provideadditional life support and robotic capabilities; theU.S.-built Quest Airlock, a doorway to space thatsupports station-based spacewalks; the Canadian-built Canadarm2, a new-generation robotic arm thatgives the station a movable space crane; theRussian-built Pirs docking compartment, whichadds additional spacewalking and dockingcapabilities to the station; and truss segments,which serve as the framework for additional stationsegments. Japanese and European researchlaboratories are ready for delivery to expand thestation’s research capabilities even more.The station’s first resident crew, Expedition 1,marked the beginning of a permanent internationalhuman presence in space, arriving at the station ina Russian Soyuz capsule in November 2000.Currently, station crews stay on orbit for six monthsat a time. The International Space Station providesthe first laboratory complex where gravity, afundamental force on Earth, is virtually eliminatedfor extended periods. This ability to control thevariable of gravity in experiments opens upunimaginable research possibilities. TheInternational Space Station is vital to humanexploration. It’s where we learn how to combat thephysiological effects of being in space for longperiods. It’s our test bed for technologies and ourdecision-making processes when things go asplanned and when they don’t. It’s important to learnand test these things 240 miles up rather thanencountering them 240,000 miles away while on theway to Mars or beyond.
N A S A
f a c t s