The International Space Station (ISS) is a cooperative effort involving 16 countries. The station is not fully assembled, additional flights are necessary before the station will be complete.
On completion, the station will weight over 1 million pounds (over 450,000 kilograms) and occupy a volume of 43,000 cubic feet (about 1200 cubic meters). The photograph above shows the station with only some of the solar panels installed, the completed station will fill an area of 290 by 356 feet (88 by 109 meters).
It orbits 220 miles (354 kilometers) above the earth’s surface and will have a crew of 7 people.
In addition to fostering international cooperation, the ISS has other goals as well.
The ISS will be a platform for conducting medical experiments, mostly studying how living in space will affect the health of the people involved and how to prevent health problems from arising. In particular, there will be experiments on how bone mass decreases and the inner ear changes under low gravity conditions. Other experiments monitor the effect of radiation on people living on the station, how microorganisms grow in a space environment and how to keep the air supply free from contaminants. Hopefully the results of these experiments will make living and working in space safer.
In addition, there will be experiments attempt to crystallize various organic compounds such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acids of biological origin in order to understand the structure of these compounds. It is easier to grow these crystals in a weightless environment.
There will be investigations into better ways of performing some of these experiments, including a mechanism that might reduce vibration (vibration can ruin some types of experiments, it is difficult to completely eliminate all vibration on a spacecraft).
Over time, additional scientific research may be conducted aboard the station.
Observing the ISS
If you know where and when to look, it is possible to see the ISS with the naked eye. The orbit of the ISS may pass over your location from time to time, to determine when and where go to NASA’s International Space Station Real-Time Data Page.
Observing the ISS with a telescope can be a little tricky. If you have a telescope that will respond to computer control and a computer, there are software packages that will allow you to track satellites (such as the ISS) with your telescope. First determine when and where the ISS will pass overhead (using the link above). Then set up your telescope ahead of time using software from one of the following sites (note, we have not evaluated any of these software products).
- The International Space Station—NASA, by astronauts aboard STS-102 (one of the Space Shuttle Missions)