International Space Station

International Space Station: A Technological Marvel in Space!

The International Space Station (ISS) is a technological marvel and a multi-nation project. It is the single magnitude structure ever launched into space by humankind. The station’s primary construction occurred between 1998 and 2011, although it is constantly evolving to incorporate new missions and experiments. It has been occupied continuously since November 2, 2000.

As of January 2018, 230 people from 18 different countries had visited the International Space Station. The United States (145 individuals) and Russia are the top participating countries (46 people). Space agencies are assigned astronauts and research space station time based on how much money or resources (such as modules or robots) they give.

Fifteen different countries fund the International Space Station (ISS). The primary partners of the space station are NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), and the European Space Agency, who supply the majority of the financing; the other partners include the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Credit: Pixabay

Functioning of the International Space Station

The space station will remain operational until at least 2024, with the partners contemplating a possible extension until 2028. Following then, the plans for the space station emerged. For example, it might be deorbited or repurposed for future orbiting space stations.

Mission control centres support the ISS crew in Houston and Moscow and a payload control centre in Huntsville, Alabama. Other international mission control centres from Japan, Canada, and Europe assist on the space station. The International Space Station is also controllable from mission control centres in Houston or Moscow.

History and Timeline of the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) construction spanned over ten years and more than 30 flights. It is the product of unparalleled scientific and engineering collaboration between five space agencies from 15 different countries. A 460-ton crewed platform orbiting 250 miles in space above the skies, the space station is roughly equal to the size of a football field. The ISS is four times the size of Russia’s Mir space station and five times the size of the United States’ Skylab.

The concept of a space station was initially science fiction, existing only in the mind until it became apparent in the 1940s. With the beginning of the Space Age in the 1950s, images of “space aircraft” and “space stations” flunked the media. The first primary space station was built in 1969 by connecting two Russian Soyuz ships in orbit, followed by numerous stations and technological advancements until building on the ISS began in 1998. It was helmed by the first reusable spacecraft ever developed: the first reusable spacecraft, an American shuttle.

Until recently, most U.S. research space onboard the ISS was designated for government programmes, but new options for commercial and academic usage of the ISS are now accessible, thanks to the ISS National Lab.

Constructing the ISS
Credit: ISS National Lab

ISS Timeline

January 25, 1984

President Reagan instructed NASA to construct the International Space Station. Former US President Ronald Reagan, in his Union Address, directed NASA to create an international space station over the following ten years.

November 20, 1998

The foremost part of the International Space Station (ISS) is launched. Launch the first section of the ISS: Zarya, a Russian proton rocket (“sunrise”).

December 4, 1998

First launches of components made in the United States. Launch of Unity, the first component of the International Space Station constructed in the United States. It was the first Space Shuttle flight dedicated to station assembly.

November 2, 2000

The First Crew to Live on Station. On November 2, 2000, astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev became the first crew to spend many months on board the station.

February 7, 2001

New U.S. Lab Module. Destiny, the U.S. Laboratory module, is integrated into the station. Destiny remains the principal research laboratory for American payloads.


U.S. Lab Module got recognition as the Nation’s Newest National Laboratory. Congress designates the United States, part of the International Space Station, as the nation’s newest national laboratory to maximize its usage by other U.S. government agencies and academic and commercial organizations.

February 7, 2008

A European Laboratory Joins the International Space Station. The Columbus Laboratory, located in the European Space Agency, is integrated within the station.

March 11, 2008

A Japanese laboratory has joined the International Space Station (ISS). The first Japanese Kibo laboratory module was integrated into the station.

November 2, 2010

ISS Celebrates Its Tenth Anniversary. The International Space Station (ISS) is celebrating its tenth year of continuous human habitation. Two hundred and two individuals had visited the station since Expedition 1 in the fall of 2000.

February 14 2011

NASA Announces a Cooperative Agreement. NASA publishes notification of a cooperation agreement seeking a management partner.

July 13, 2011

NASA Chooses the ISS National Laboratory. NASA chose the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space to administer the ISS National Lab on July 13, 2011.


The First National Lab Research Flight from the International Space Station. Protein crystals with nearly flawless three-dimensional structures produced in space and used to create novel medicines. The ISS National Lab’s protein crystal growth (PCG) flight series began in 2013, allowing researchers to make use of the ISS’s unique environment.

Astro App Spot the ISS

Spotting the International Space Station in the Sky

The space station orbits the Earth at the height of 248 miles (400 kilometres). It spans the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of around 17500 mph (28,000 km/h). Thus, the station covers the distance between Earth and the moon in a single day.

The space station rivals the magnificent planet Venus and appears like a dazzling moving light across the night sky in terms of brightness. Night sky watchers can check the sky and see the ISS without using a telescope. They can use the NASA app to determine when and where the International Space Station will be visible.

Crew Composition

The ISS typically has a three-to-six-person crew (the full six-person size was possible after 2009 when the station facilities could support it). However, crew sizes have changed throughout time. For example, crews were as small as two people after the Columbia space shuttle tragedy in 2003, which stopped operations for several years due to the limited ability to send people into orbit on the smaller Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The space station has also hosted up to 13 people on many occasions. However, it is for specific periods during crew changes or space shuttle trips.

The space shuttle fleet of the space shuttle fleet was in 2011, leaving the Soyuz as the only active way of transporting astronauts to the International Space Station. Three astronauts go to the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft for six months at a time. Mission durations might vary slightly owing to spacecraft scheduling or exceptional occurrences. If the space crew has to leave the station, they can go onboard two Russian Soyuz spacecraft connected to the ISS.

Boosting the ISS

Commercial crew vehicles Dragon (by SpaceX) and CST-100 (by Boeing) are projects to boost ISS crew numbers beginning in 2019 or 2020, since they can transport more astronauts at a time than Soyuz. When commercial spacecraft from the United States become available, demand for the Soyuz will fall as NASA will have to acquire fewer seats from the Russians.

The astronauts onboard the ISS spend the majority of their time conducting experiments and maintenance, with at least two hours allotted each day for exercise and personal care. They also undertake spacewalks, media/school outreach activities and publish updates on social media on occasion.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a long-term study platform for human health that NASA touts as a critical stepping stone to allowing humans to visit other solar system locations such as the moon or Mars. Human bodies change in microgravity, including muscles, bones, the cardiovascular system, and the eyes. Many scientific studies are underway to determine the extent of the changes and their reversible properties. Specifically, the agency is troubled by eye issues, the source of which is unknown. Also, astronauts often report lasting alterations in eyesight after returning to Earth.

Astronauts aboard ISS
Credit: Pixabay

Activities of Astronauts aboard the ISS

Astronauts also test commercial items such as espresso machines and 3D printers and biological studies on rats and plants, which the astronauts may cultivate and sometimes eat in space.

Crews are responsible not just for science but also for the station’s upkeep. As a result, it occasionally necessitates spacewalks to conduct repairs. These repairs can be critical at times, such as when a component of the ammonia system breaks, which has happened a couple of times.

After a potentially fatal event in 2013, astronaut Luca Parmitano’s helmet filled with water while working outside the station. It led to the modification of spacewalk safety protocols. NASA now responds swiftly to cases of “water invasion.” It has also added pads to the spacesuits to absorb fluids and a tube to give an alternate breathing site if the helmet fills with water.

NASA is also developing technologies to complement or replace human spacewalks. Robonaut is one such example. A prototype currently onboard the station can flip switches and perform other regular duties under supervision, and it may be adapted to work “outside” at some time.

Astronaut Spacewalk International Space Station
Credit: Pixabay

ISS Records in Space

When it comes to personnel, the ISS has experienced many significant milestones over the years:

  • Majority of days spent in space by an American: 340 days, during Scott Kelly’s one-year mission to the International Space Station in 2015-16. (along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko). The space agencies conducted a range of tests on the astronauts. NASA has shown interest in more long-duration missions, though not announced.
  • American astronaut Peggy Whitson’s 2016-17 trip aboard the space station was the longest single woman spaceflight, lasting 289 days.
  • Most overall time spent in space by a woman: Peggy Whitson, who spent most of her 665 days in space orbit aboard the ISS. It occurred in April 2010 when women from two spacecraft missions met aboard the International Space Station. Tracy Caldwell Dyson, NASA astronauts Stephanie Wilson and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenberger, and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki all came aboard the space shuttle Discovery during its brief STS-131 mission.
  • The largest space gathering: 13 individuals in 2009, during NASA’s STS-127 shuttle mission on board Endeavour. (It’s been tied a few times in subsequent missions.)
  • STS-102, an ISS building mission in 2001, had the longest single spacewalk at 8 hours and 56 minutes. NASA astronauts Jim Voss and Susan Helms took part in the event.
  • The Russian spacewalk with the most extended duration: 8 hours and 13 minutes during Expedition 54 to repair an ISS antenna. Russian astronauts Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov were among those who took part.

Structure of the ISS

The space station, including its enormous solar arrays, covers the size of a football field in the United States. Additionally, with the end zones, it weighs 861,804 pounds (391,000 kg) without visiting spacecraft. The complex now boasts more usable space than a typical five-bedroom house, as well as two separate baths, a gym, and a 360-degree bay window. Astronauts have often compared the living quarters of the space station to the cabin of a Boeing 747 jumbo aeroplane.

The ISS jolted into space piece by piece and progressively assembled in orbit with the help of spacewalking humans and robots. Although some individual modules came up on single-use rockets, most flights used NASA’s space shuttle to take up the heavier components. As a result, the ISS consists of modules and connecting nodes that house living quarters, labs, external trusses for structural support, and solar panels for power.

Modules of ISS

Russia’s Zarya’s first module launched on a Proton rocket on November 20, 1998. Two weeks later, the NASA Unity/Node 1 module aboard space shuttle flight STS-88. During STS-88, astronauts did spacewalks to link the two components of the station. Later, other elements of the station are launched on rockets or in the space shuttle cargo hold. [Rare Photographs of the Space Shuttle at the International Space Station]. Among the other main modules and components are:

  • The truss, the airlocks, and the solar panels (launched in stages throughout the ISS lifetime; docking adapters launched in 2017 for new commercial spacecraft)
  • Zvezda’s (Russia; launched in 2000)
  • Laboratory Module for Destiny (NASA; launched 2001)
  • The robotic arm Canadarm2 (CSA; launched 2001). Initially, it was in use for spacewalks and remote-controlled maintenance. Today, it applies to docking cargo ships that cannot utilize the other ports of the space station.
  • Node 2 (Harmony) (NASA; launched 2007)
  • Columbus Space Center (ESA; launched 2008)
  • Dexterous robotic hand (CSA; launched 2008)
  • Kibo (Japanese Experiment Module) (launched in stages between 2008-09)
  • Tranquility/Node 3 and the Cupola window (launched 2010)
  • Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (ESA; launched for permanent residency in 2011, but previously used to transport cargo to and from the station)
  • Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (ESA; launched for permanent residency in 2011, but previously used to transport cargo to and from the station) (private module launched in 2016)
International Space Station
Credit: Pixabay

Spacecraft for the Space Station

Aside from the space shuttle and Soyuz, several spacecraft visit the space station. Regular visits to the station occur by uncrewed Progress (Russia) vehicles. Until discontinuation of their missions, Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle and Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle made trips to the ISS.

NASA launched the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services programme, which operated from 2006 to 2013, to build commercial cargo ships for the space station. The first commercial spaceship, SpaceX’s Dragon, visited the space station in 2012. Visits resume today with Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Antares spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services program’s first stage. Dragon, Antares, and Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser received a CRS-2 contract for flights between 2019 and 2024.

The International Space Station is a technological marvel to wonder. No wonder it is a marvel, spanning space, our skies and giving satellite information at the core!


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