The International Space Station is the largest and most complex international scientific project in history. It is not yet complete, but will be more than four times larger than the Russian Mir Space Station. It draws upon the scientific and technological resources of 16 nations: The USA, Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil and 11 nations of the European Space Agency.
The station orbits at an altitude of 250 miles at an inclination of 51.6 degrees, allowing it to be reached by the launch vehicles of all the international partners. It also allows excellent Earth observations with coverage of 85% of the globe and overflight of 95% of the population.
Research is undertaken on board the ISS in a variety of fascinating fields. Protein crystals grown in space are purer than those grown on earth, and these are examined to help understand the nature of proteins, enzymes and viruses. Living tissue cells can also be grown in this environment without the constraints of strong gravity, which can distort them. These are just a couple of examples of space research on the ISS.
U.S. Role and Contributions
The United States has the responsibility for developing and ultimately operating major elements and systems aboard the station. The U.S. elements include three connecting modules, or nodes; a laboratory module; truss segments; four solar arrays; a habitation module; three mating adapters; a cupola; an unpressurized logistics carrier and a centrifuge module. The various systems being developed by the U.S. include thermal control; life support; guidance, navigation and control; data handling; power systems; communications and tracking; ground operations facilities and launch-site processing facilities.
The international partners, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency, and Russia, will contribute the following key elements to the International Space Station:
· Canada is providing a 55-foot-long robotic arm to be used for assembly and maintenance tasks on the Space Station.
· The European Space Agency is building a pressurized laboratory to be launched on the Space Shuttle and logistics transport vehicles to be launched on the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.
· Japan is building a laboratory with an attached exposed exterior platform for experiments as well as logistics transport vehicles.
· Russia is providing two research modules; an early living quarters called the Service Module with its own life support and habitation systems; a science power platform of solar arrays that can supply about 20 kilowatts of electrical power; logistics transport vehicles; and Soyuz spacecraft for crew return and transfer.
In addition, Brazil and Italy are contributing some equipment to the station through agreements with the United States.
An artist's conception: The International Space Station as it will look when completed. [NASA Graphic]
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean as seen from the International Space Station (Expedition 7) on 21 July 2003.