Facts Worth Sharing
- The International Space Station (ISS) is a permanently crewed, multinational space laboratory in low-Earth orbit.
- NASA and its international partners conduct research aboard the ISS that helps us prepare for human deep space exploration missions.
- The ISS shows that multiple countries and private companies can work together for the peaceful exploration of space.
Why We Need the International Space Station
As humans prepare to explore the Moon and Mars, we must understand how astronauts will cope with spaceflight side effects like vision degradation, bone loss, and social isolation. We must also test technologies that will be needed to keep humans alive in deep space, where supply ships and quick returns to Earth are not available.
The International Space Station, or ISS, is a permanently crewed space lab in Earth orbit. Continuously staffed since 2 November 2000, it is the longest-running space station program of all time. NASA and its international partners conduct research aboard the ISS that helps us prepare for deep space.
The ISS shows that multiple countries and private companies can work together for the peaceful exploration of space. Born out of the ashes of the Cold War as a way for the U.S. and Russia to focus on a common goal, the station has largely remained unaffected by Earthly politics. It operates thanks to the cooperation of 15 nations working under formal international agreements.
The ISS holds a special place in popular culture. In the United States, a majority of the public believes astronauts, not just robots, should explore space. Astronauts on the station regularly speak with school children, inspiring new generations of scientists, technologists, engineers, artists, and mathematicians. The station’s societal impact combined with its function as a one-of-a-kind research laboratory enables it to directly and indirectly benefit space science and exploration.
How the International Space Station Works
The ISS core consists of modules launched by U.S. and Russian rockets over the course of 13 years. Additional governmental and commercial components and modules have been added since, with more planned for the future. The station has a
pressurized volume equivalent to a mid-size passenger airplane, with nearly half of that available for the crew.
Astronauts staff the station in pairs of 3 or 4-person crews assigned to overlapping 6-month missions, with each unique complement of up to 7 people composing a numbered Expedition (each crew serves on two Expeditions during their stay).
Science and research aboard the ISS generally falls into 4 categories:
- Studies on how living in space affects the human body
- Technology demonstrations for future human spaceflight equipment, including experience gained from current operational systems
- Physical science experiments that benefit from the station’s weightless environment
- Earth science and astrophysics instruments that use the station as an orbital platform
A fleet of international and commercial spacecraft service the ISS. Current crew vehicles are the Russian Soyuz and SpaceX Dragon. Current cargo vehicles are Soyuz, Dragon, and Northrop Grumman's Cygnus. Future vehicles include Boeing's Starliner for crews, and Japan's HTV-X and the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser for cargo.
SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner were created with support from NASA's Commercial Crew Program, a partnership between NASA and private industry to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Unlike previous human spaceflight programs, NASA is a customer buying flights from commercial providers. The agency does not own or operate the spacecraft. The program is helping to lower the cost of spaceflight and potentially create a new commercial market for humans in space.
How You Can Support the International Space Station
Planetary Society co-founder Carl Sagan once said that when you’re in love, you want to tell the world. Space missions like the International Space Station are dependent upon sustained public enthusiasm from people like you. You know your audience best; we've got tools to help.
Tell the world
- Spread the Facts Worth Sharing at the top of this article on social media
- Send this page to others using the short URL planetary.org/iss
- Share pictures of Earth, the ISS, and astronauts
- Use NASA's Spot the Station tools to see the ISS fly overhead, and help others to do the same
- Stay up to date on the ISS and other missions by signing up for The Downlink, our weekly newsletter
- Read the Planetary Society's human spaceflight principles
- Learn how NASA's Commercial Crew program helped SpaceX and Boeing build private spacecraft capable of ferrying astronauts to the ISS
- Take a tour of the station using Google Maps
Ready to take your next steps as a space advocate? Become a member and find out how you can take action in your community and government.
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