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The International Space Station

The International Space Station, a joint project between many different space agencies, is the first truly international major space project in the history of mankind, and also probably the most ambitious.

    What's it all about then?

The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station in orbit around the Earth. It is made up of a number of 'modules' which fit together to form an area where astronauts, who live on it generally for periods of about 3 to 4 months, can live, exercise and perform tasks and experiments. It is still in its relatively early stages and more and more modules are being added to it all the time.

To check its present location, look here.

    Who is making it?

ISS is a collaboration between these countries mainly:


America is the main country behind the ISS, pumping the most money into it and keeping everything running smoothly.


As well as making quite a few modules, the Russian space agency is contributing its great experience in running space stations.

Europe (ESA)

With 11 space agencies working together as a whole, the European Space Agency has committed itself to the ISS and is spending money and manpower in making many modules as well as other additions, such as a robotic arm, connecting nodes etc.

Japan (NASDA)

Japan, renowned for it's efficiency in the hi-tech world, is also helping out in making modules, a robotic arm and an external platform.

Canada (CSA)

Canada is to supply robotics, such as the 55-foot 'Canadarm'1 and 2, as well as a mobile cart that moves along tracks on the ISS backbone.

Italy (ASI)

As well as its contribution in the European Space Agency, Italy is also contributing three logistics modules to move equipment racks and 1 living quarters module.


Brazil will make an outside moveable experiment pallet.

    What modules currently form the ISS?

At the moment, no more modules are being added to the ISS, due to the grounding of all space shuttle flights. However, these are the modules which currently make up the International Space Station:

Zvezda Module

This is the initial living quarters of the ISS crew, and contains such exciting things as kitchen appliances and exercise devices.

Zarya Module

This is the Russian Service Module, which currently supplies propulsion, navigation, altitude control, electrical power and communications facilities to those on board the ISS. As the ISS expands, its role will revolve more around storage, whilst other modules should take over its current functionings.

Unity Module

This US-built module is really just a connecting module and passageway, or 'Node' as it is referred to. It includes an airlock for cosmonauts and astronauts to use for depressurizing, when exiting the ISS.

Destiny Module

The first real laboratory module on the ISS, this module is filled with hi-tech equipment to perform sophisticated scientific and technological research in zero-gravity (obviously!) conditions.

    How many astronauts are on board the ISS?

Typically, there are 3 astronauts aboard the International Space Station at any one time. The space station can also however function properly with only two astronauts, when the situation warrants (eg after the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia, the permanent crew of the ISS was reduced to two whilst the space shuttle fleet was grounded). As the space station expands it will be possible to eventually accomodate 7 inhabitants at any one time.

    What will it be used for?

The main aims of the International Space Station project are to perform numerous experiments under zero gravity conditions, including testing possible medical treatments, constructing a permanent large space station, and possibly most importantly setting a precedent by showing that different countries working together can co-operate to achieve goals which are larger than any individual country could possibly achieve. Unfortunately, due to the position of its orbit around the Earth to allow for access from the Russion Soyuz rockets launched from Kazhakstan, the international space station could not in the future be used to construct large space vehicles in space, as has previously been suggested.

    What happens to ISS waste?

Much of the equipment aboard the ISS is reusable. However, non-recyclable waste is either taken back to Earth aboard a space shuttle, or it is put aboard a Russian return vehicle and sent towards the home planet, where it will disintegrate as it enters the Earth's atmosphere.

    Where can I get pictures/videos of it?

In our International Space Station Multimedia Section, by clicking Here.
Or Here

    Where can I find out more about it?

We've picked out the best International Space Station websites for you:

Discovery.Com ISS Section

A nice, well made and thought out site which includes many interesting facts about the ISS as well as a handy 'construction timeline', video gallery, astronaut profiles and interactive stuff.

NASA's ISS website

A good, frequently updated ISS site, with lots of the latest news (from a NASA perspective) with crew info, images, news archives, 'tours' and other useful stuff

ESA's ISS section

The European Space Agency's ISS site, with news and other info from a European perspective.

PBS - Space Staion | The Station

A useful guide about the ISS with lots of good helpful information.