A) What Is ISS?

So what is the International Space Station (ISS) and whose idea was it for the ISS? Let's talk about the basics... The International Space Station is a special kind of spacecraft floating in space in orbit around the Earth. It is a large research facility with people on-board who run science experiments that can only be done in space. You can think of the ISS kind of like a house where the residents live in, work in, and continue to furnish! Pretty cool, eh?

The three main reasons for the International Space Station are scientific research, exploration, as well as educational and cultural outreach. There are many scientific and technical experiments to be done on-board. Exploration is done by viewing space and galaxies and the Earth from a new perspective. And education and outreach opportunities are given to students all over the world by having the ISS crew run student-developed experiments, making educational demonstrations and even directly talking to students using the internet!

The International Space Station needs to be able to orient and "steer" itself in space. The ISS orbits the Earth and flying through space at around 17,000 miles per hour, or 27,000 kilometers per hour. This means the ISS goes around the Earth approximately once every ninety minutes! There are guidance systems and boosters on board to make sure the ISS flies at the right altitude and right direction. Much of ISS operations and control is s by the US and Russia control centers on the ground.

The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (or TDRS) is a series of satellites that the International Space Station uses to communicate with the ground. Using TDRS with its satellites positioned all around the Earth, the ISS can communicate to the Earth any time it needs to! The Space Communications and Navigation (or SCaN) is the NASA network that controls TDRS.

You'll learn more about the International Space Station by clicking the other topics in this Kids Zone.

B) Who's Involved?

So who built the International Space Station? And who's involved with it now? The two primary countries involved with the ISS are the United States with NASA and Russia with the RSA. Other countries involved with the construction and ongoing activities on the ISS are the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, Japan, Brazil, and many others.

The International Space Station had to be constructed in space, piece by piece. Many of the components put together were so heavy that the only way to assemble them was in the weightlessness of space. The first part of the ISS was called Zarya, built by Russia, and was sent and constructed in 1998. The second part was called Unity, built by the US, and both modules were connected together in space.

NASA flight control operations maintain oversight and approve all plans while the Russian flight control team direct real-time ISS operations based on approved plans. Most of the other modules of the ISS are either US or Russian, but plenty other modules belong to those other countries around the world! For example, the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module performs space medicine experiments, communications research and is operated by Japan.

The ISS was designed so many countries all over the world could cooperate and have a place on-board to perform their science and technology experiments.

C) What Has Been Done?

The International Space Station is comprised of many different parts...

The ISS was begun in 1998 and has been fully completed. Over time, the US space shuttle and Russian rockets were primarily used to get materials, parts, and people back and forth from the Earth up to the space station. Let's take a look at the ISS. You may be wondering what are all of the different parts of the space station that you're looking at?

The ISS has many different modules. The first thing you might see are the big solar panels, and these are used to gather energy from the sun and used as power all over the ship. The long tube-like structure in the middle is a combination of different segments that can rotate the solar panels and control other systems. The full length of the ISS is more than the length of a football field.

There is a docking compartment for space vehicles. There is a habitation module where the astronauts eat food, shower, and sleep. The people can float through many of the different areas of the space station. There are laboratory modules designed for scientific experiments. Some of these modules have cool names, like Destiny, Harmony, and Kibo. Some of these experiments are even done during spacewalks, where astronauts move around the outside of the space station out in space!

As you can see, the International Space Station is a complex and interesting spacecraft where we are learning to live and work in space.

D) What Does ISS Do?

What kind of experiments are done on ISS? Experiments with space medicine, gravity's affect on life, future space travel, biology in space, discovery of new materials, and various technology experiments. They also observe and study the Earth and space.

The astronauts and scientists onboard the ISS perform these science and technology experiments to improve our life on Earth in different ways.

Let's talk about some of these experiments... Zero gravity affects the muscles and bones in humans and studying these effects in space can help us better understand how the body works and is useful information for future space travel. Studying materials in space is also useful, like fluids, flames, metals, and studying all kinds of different objects and materials in space helps us gain a better understanding of all these things on Earth.

From the ISS, we have a great window to watch the Earth, watching weather, climate, agriculture trends, natural disasters, pollution, deforestation, etc. From our viewpoint up there, we can find ways to predict weather more effectively, see where to clean up pollution and oil spills, and find lots of ways to improve our life on Earth. From the ISS, we can have a more clear view of all the galaxies out in the universe and we can even study the very nature of space itself.

So as you can see, the International Space Station is a very important spacecraft finding new ways to improve our lives on Earth and helping us build a better future in space.

E) Life on ISS

Who are the people on-board the ISS and how do they live up there? The ISS supports a full-time crew of up to six people. These people are scientists and astronauts. You might wonder how the people up there move around, eat food, and sleep?

Once a person is inside the International Space Station, they can float around without needing a space suit. The only time an astronaut would need a spacesuit is if they are doing a spacewalk, which means they are going to go outside the space station to work on something.

As for oxygen, there are life support systems on the ISS which provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide so astronauts can do their job onboard and breath normally. Much of this oxygen comes from a process where the electricity from the ISS solar panels is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Very cool!

Eating food in space is quite a bit different from eating food on Earth. On the ISS, meals often come in a meal tray, and the meal tray becomes a sort of dinner plate with several foods to choose from. The tray holds the foods down so they don't float away. Much of the food can be scooped up with a spoon for eating. The food and drink come in cans or dehydrated so things don't have to be refrigerated. If the food isn't strapped to the table, you can just grab it out of the floating air around you.

As for sleeping, astronauts are weightless and can sleep in any orientation. However, they have to attach themselves to a wall, seat, or bed so they don't float around and bump into something. Astronauts have many creative ways of living and working onboard the International Space Station!

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