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The International Space Station in orbit above Earth. An astronaut on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis took this image on October 16, 2002.
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Image courtesy NASA.

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is a very large space station in orbit around Earth. The ISS is currently inhabited and in use, but it is also under construction; new modules are gradually being added to the station. The ISS is a collaborative project involving 16 nations, including the United States.

The first section of the ISS, called Zarya, was launched in November 1998 on a Russian Proton rocket. Numerous other segments have been added since, lofted into orbit aboard U.S. Space Shuttles and Russian Proton boosters. Currently the ISS has an interior volume comparable to that of a commercial jet airliner. The ISS orbits Earth at an average altitude of 354 kilometers (220 miles).

The space station is used to conduct microgravity research, to study the long-term effects of spaceflight on humans and other living creatures, to test equipment and procedures for long duration stays in space, and to observe Earth. The first crew took up residence in October 2000, and the ISS has been continuously inhabited since. Crews spend about six months on board the station, and are replaced by other cosmonauts and astronauts launched on the Space Shuttle or Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Sixteen nations are partners in the ISS project: the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Two space tourists have visited the ISS.

Last modified May 10, 2004 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF