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International Space Station


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International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
International Space Station (Space)
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Information about International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station (ISS) is an internationally developed research facility currently being assembled in Low Earth Orbit. On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 (23 years ago) and is scheduled to be complete by 2011 (10 years ago), with operations continuing until at least 2015 (6 years ago). The ISS orbits at an altitude of approximately 350 kilometres (220 mi) above the surface of the Earth, travelling at an average speed of 27,724 kilometres (17,227 mi) per hour, completing 15.7 orbits per day. The station can be seen from the Earth with the naked eye, and, as of 2009 (12 years ago), is the largest artificial satellite in Earth orbit, with a mass larger than that of any previous space station.

The ISS is a joint project among the space agencies of the United States (National Aeronautics and Space Administration—NASA), Russia (Russian Federal Space Agency—RKA), Japan (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency—JAXA), Canada (Canadian Space Agency—CSA) and ten European nations (European Space Agency—ESA).a The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) participates through a separate contract with NASA. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) similarly has separate contracts for various activities not done within the framework of ESA's ISS projects (where Italy also fully participates). China has reportedly expressed interest in the project, especially if it would be able to work with the RKA, although as of 2009 (12 years ago) it is not involved due to objections from the United States.

The ISS has been continuously staffed since the first resident crew, Expedition 1, entered the station on 2 Nov. 2000 (21 years ago). This has provided an uninterrupted human presence in space for the last &0000000000000008.0000008 years, &0000000000000300.000000300 days. Prior to May 2009 (12 years ago), the station had the capacity for a crew of three. However, to fulfil an active research programme, since the arrival of Expedition 20, it has been staffed by a resident crew of six. The crew of Expedition 20 is currently aboard. Resident crews utilise the station as an orbital laboratory, carrying out research across a wide variety of fields, including biology, human biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology. The station also provides a safe testing location for efficient, reliable spacecraft systems that will be required for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

The station consists of a number of pressurised modules and unpressurised components, which have been launched by Space Shuttle (8 walls), Soyuz rocket or Proton rocket. The ISS is serviced by a wide variety of manned and unmanned spacecraft, including the Soyuz spacecraft, Progress spacecraft, Space Shuttle (8 walls) and Automated Transfer Vehicle, and has been visited by astronauts from 16 different nations. The various sections of the station are controlled by several mission control centres on the ground, including MCC-H, TsUP, Col-CC, ATV-CC, JEM-CC, HTV-CC and MSS-CC.



The International Space Station serves primarily as a research laboratory and is the largest satellite ever launched into orbit. The station offers an advantage over spacecraft such as NASA's Space Shuttle (8 walls) because it is a long-term platform in the space environment, allowing long-duration studies to be performed, both on specific experiments and on the human crews that operate them. The presence of a permanent crew also means that the station offers benefits over other unmanned spacecraft as experiments can be monitored, replenished, repaired or replaced as required by the crew, as can various other components of the spacecraft itself. This means that scientists on the ground have swift access to their data and can modify experiments or fly new ones as and when required, benefits generally unavailable on specialised unmanned spacecraft.

Crews flying long-term expeditions, lasting several months, conduct science daily (approximately 160 man-hours a week) across a wide variety of fields, including human research, life sciences, physical sciences, and Earth observation, as well as education and technology demonstrations. As of Jun. 2006 (15 years ago), 90 science investigations had been conducted on the ISS over 64 months of continuous research. In addition, there have been nine research racks and more than 7,700 kg (17,000 lb) of research equipment and facilities launched to the station. Scientific findings, in fields ranging from basic science to exploration research, are being published every month.

The ISS also provides a testing location for efficient, reliable spacecraft systems that will be required for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars, allowing for equipment to be evaluated in the relatively safe location of Low Earth Orbit. This provides experience in maintaining, repairing, and replacing systems on-orbit, which will be essential in operating spacecraft further from Earth. This aspect of ISS operations reduces mission risks, and advances the capabilities of interplanetary spacecraft.

Finally, in addition to the scientific and research aspects of the station, there are numerous opportunities for educational outreach and international cooperation. The crews of the ISS provide educational opportunities for students back home on Earth, including student-developed experiments, educational demonstrations, student participation in classroom versions of ISS experiments, NASA investigator experiments, and ISS engineering activities. The ISS programme itself, and the international cooperation that it represents, allows 14 nations to live and work together in space, providing important lessons that can be taken forward into future multi-national missions.

Scientific research

One of the main goals of the ISS is to provide a place to conduct experiments that require one or more of the unusual conditions present on the station. The main fields of research include biology, physics, astronomy, and meteorology. The 2005 (16 years ago) NASA Authorization Act designated the US segment of the International Space Station as a national laboratory with a goal to increase the use of the ISS by other Federal entities and the private sector.

One research goal is to improve the understanding of long-term space exposure on the human body. Subjects currently under study include muscle atrophy, bone loss, and fluid shift. The data will be used to determine whether space colonisation and lengthy human spaceflight are feasible. As of 2009 (12 years ago), data on bone loss and muscular atrophy suggest that there would be a significant risk of fractures and movement problems if astronauts landed on a planet following a lengthy space cruise.

The effect of near-weightlessness on non-human subjects is being considered as well. Researchers are investigating the relation of the near-weightless environment of outer space to evolution, development and growth, and the internal processes of plants and animals. In response to some of this data, NASA wants to investigate microgravity's effects on the growth of three-dimensional, human-like tissues, and the unusual protein crystals that can be formed in space.

Researchers are investigating the physics of fluids in microgravity, enabling them to better model the behaviour of fluids in the future. Due to the ability to almost completely combine fluids in microgravity, physicists are interested in investigating the combinations of fluids that will not normally mix well on Earth. In addition, by examining reactions that are slowed down by low gravity and temperatures, scientists hope to gain new insight regarding superconductivity.

Materials processing takes up a large part of the research time aboard the station, with the goal of reaping economic benefits by developing the science to improve techniques used on the ground. Experiments are intended to provide a better understanding of the relationship between processing, structure, and properties so the conditions required on Earth to achieve desired materials properties can be reliably predicted.

Other areas of interest include the effect of the low gravity environment on combustion, studying the efficiency of burning and control of emissions & pollutants. These findings may improve our understanding of energy production, and in turn have an economic and environmental impact. There are also plans to use the ISS to examine aerosols, ozone, water vapour, and oxides in Earth's atmosphere, as well as cosmic rays, cosmic dust, antimatter, and dark matter in the universe.

One component assisting in these various studies is the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier (ELC). Developed by NASA, four of these units are set to be launched to the ISS. As currently envisioned, the ELCs will be delivered on three separate Space Shuttle (8 walls) missions. They will allow experiments to be deployed and conducted in the vacuum of space, and will provide the necessary electricity and computing to process experimental data locally. Delivery is currently scheduled for STS-129 in Nov. 2009 (12 years ago), STS-133 in May 2010 (11 years ago) and STS-134 in sep. 2010 (11 years ago).

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a particle physics experiment, is also scheduled to be added to the station. This device will be launched on STS-134 in 2010 (11 years ago), and will be mounted externally on the Integrated Truss Structure. The AMS will search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. The experiments conducted will help researchers study the formation of the universe, and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter.


Space Shuttle (8 walls) Atlantis docked to Mir on STS-71, during the Shuttle-Mir ProgrammeOriginating during the Cold War, the International Space Station represents a union of several space station projects from various nations. During the early 1980s, NASA had planned to launch a modular space station called Freedom as a counterpart to the Soviet Salyut and Mir space stations. In addition, the Soviets were planning a replacement for Mir to be constructed during the 1990 (31 years ago) called Mir-2. Due to budget and design constraints, however, Freedom never progressed past mock-ups and minor component tests.

With the fall of the Soviet Union ending the Cold War and Space Race, Freedom was nearly cancelled by the United States House of Representatives. The post-Soviet economic chaos in Russia also led to the eventual cancellation of Mir-2, with only the base block of that station, DOS-8, having been constructed. Similar difficulties were being faced by the U.S. and other nations with plans for space stations. This prompted U.S. administration officials to start negotiations with partners in Europe, Russia, Japan, and Canada in the early 1990 (31 years ago) to begin a collaborative, multi-national, space station project.

In Jun. 1992 (29 years ago), then U.S. president George H. W. Bush and Russian president Boris Yeltsin agreed to cooperate on space exploration by signing the Agreement between the United States of America and the Russian Federation Concerning Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes. This agreement called for setting up a short, joint space programme, during which one U.S. astronaut would board the Russian space station Mir and two Russian cosmonauts would board a space shuttle.

In sep. 1993 (28 years ago), U.S. Vice-president Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced plans for a new space station, which eventually became the International Space Station. They also agreed, in preparation for this new project, that the US would be heavily involved in the Mir programme in the years ahead, as part of an agreement that later included Space Shuttle (8 walls) orbiters docking with Mir.

The ISS programme was planned to combine the proposed space stations of all participating space agencies, including Freedom, Mir-2 (with DOS-8 later becoming Zvezda), ESA's Columbus, and the Japanese Kibō laboratory. When the first module, Zarya, was launched in 1998 (23 years ago), the station was expected to be completed by 2003 (18 years ago). Due to delays, however, the estimated completion date has been put back to 2011 (10 years ago).

Assembly and structure

Expedition 18 commander Michael Fincke's video tour of the habitable part of the ISS from Jan. 2009 (12 years ago).The assembly of the International Space Station, a major aerospace engineering endeavour, began in Nov. 1998 (23 years ago). As of May 2009 (12 years ago) the station is 82.8% complete.

The first segment of the ISS, Zarya, was launched into orbit on Nov. 20, 1998 (23 years ago) on a Russian Proton rocket, followed two weeks later by the first of three node modules, Unity, launched aboard STS-88. This bare 2-module core of the ISS remained unmanned for the next one and a half years until the Russian module Zvezda was added in Jul. 2000 (21 years ago), allowing a maximum crew of three people to occupy the ISS continuously. The first resident crew, Expedition 1, was sent later that year in November. The year 2000 (21 years ago) also saw the arrival of two segments of the station's Integrated Truss Structure, the Z1 and P6 trusses, providing the embryonic station with communications, guidance, electrical grounding (on Z1), and power via a pair of solar array wings, located on the P6 truss.

Over the next two years the station continued to expand with a Soyuz-U rocket delivering the Pirs docking compartment. Space Shuttles Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour delivered the Destiny laboratory and Quest airlock to orbit, in addition to the station's robot arm Canadarm2, and several more segments of the truss structure.

The expansion schedule was brought to an abrupt halt, however, following the destruction of the Space Shuttle (8 walls) Columbia on STS-107 in 2003 (18 years ago). The resulting hiatus in the Space Shuttle (8 walls) programme halted station assembly until the launch of Discovery on STS-114 in 2005 (16 years ago).

The official return to assembly was marked by the arrival of Atlantis, flying STS-115, delivering the station's second set of solar arrays. These were later followed by several more truss segments and a third set of arrays on STS-116, STS-117, and STS-118. This major expansion of the station's power generating capabilities meant that more pressurised modules could be accommodated, and as a result the Harmony node and Columbus European laboratory were added. These were followed shortly after by the first two components of Kibō, the Japanese Experiment Module. In Mar. 2009 (12 years ago), STS-119 marked the completion of the Integrated Truss Structure with the installation of the fourth and final set of solar arrays, whilst the final section of Kibō was delivered by Endeavour in Jul. 2009 (12 years ago) on STS-127.

As of Jul. 2009 (12 years ago), the station consisted of ten pressurised modules and the complete Integrated Truss Structure. Awaiting launch is the third and final American node, Tranquillity, a Permanent Logistics Module, the European Robotic Arm, several Russian modules and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). Assembly is expected to be completed by 2011 (10 years ago), by which point the station will have a mass in excess of 400 metric tons (440 short tons).


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