International Space Station Overview

The topic of the International Space Station, ISS, is very complex and detailed. This article will provide a bit of history of the ISS, its purpose, assembly, costs of operation, its future, and how to best view the space station.

What is the ISS?

Residing in low Earth orbit, the International Space Station classified as a habitable artificial satellite. The ISS project is setup as a join program between 5 space agencies:

  • NASA, United States
  • Roscosmos. Russia
  • JAXA, Japan
  • ESA, Europe
  • CSA, Canada

With its first components launched in 1998 and astronauts residing at the space station since 2000, the ISS is the longest inhabited space mission in human history.


The ISS was originally intended to be a laboratory, observatory, and factory while providing transportation, maintenance, and a low Earth orbit staging base for possible future missions to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. However, not all of the uses envisioned in the initial Memorandum of Understanding between NASA and Roscosmos have come to fruition. In the 2010 United States National Space Policy, the ISS was given additional roles of serving commercial, diplomatic[25] and educational purposes.[26]

Experiments have included the effects of prolonged space flight on the human body, and the psychological effects, plus biological experiments regarding animals, cells, plans and proteins. There were also technologies related to technology development, physical and material sciences, earth and space science.


Building the ISS was no small endeavor, as it required hundreds of spacewalks with nearly 1000 EVA hours. The following article is a great start for those looking for the high level details. But the first modules were sent into space by Russia, then the US followed shortly after. The European Union and Japan both sent up parts for the station in 2008.

Cost Of Maintenance

Although the space station is made up of a plethora of modules, it is said that it is the most expensive single item ever constructed. In 2010, when looking the at the cost of the ISS, the best estimate approaches $150 billion.

The $150 billion figure includes the following breakdown:

  • $58.7 billion from NASA
  • $12 billion from Russia
  • $5 billion from Europe
  • $5 billion from Japan
  • $2 billion from Canada
  • $50.4 billion to build the station

To get a sense of how expensive the ISS is, if crewed by anywhere from 2 to 6 astronauts for a period of 15 years from 2000 to 20015, each astronaut on the ISS would cost $7.5 million. This value has been said to be less than half the cost for other space stations such as Skylab.

What is the end of life of the ISS?

It looks like the US and Russia might have differing ideas of how to handle the end of the ISS. Russia has said that they want to continue supporting the ISS; however, with plans to return to the Moon and then Mars, it looks like NASA has different plans. It looks like that NASA might end support for the space station in 2024 or 2028, spending the resources on other manned projects such as going to the Moon or Mars. At that point, NASA is said to desire to transition usage of the Space Station to private industry for their use.

How can one see the ISS?

There are many different apps and websites that can help a terrestrial viewer observe the International Space Station. NASA has a great website called Spot The Station in which one can input their closest city and determine the future dates of the ISS flyover in the area.

There are many other websites and apps that can help one find the ISS when it is flying overhead. Everyone seems to have their own favorite phone or table app or their own favorite website. The iPhone app Sputnik! is an app that we can personally recommend as we have used it with much success.

It is said that one can view details of the ISS with a telescope by either intercepting the ISS when it is flying overhead or by manually tracking the station. That said, if trying to track the ISS as it goes across the sky, it goes by super fast. But a long exposure photo does look very interesting in the right instances.

ISS with the Aurora Borealis

References and Further Research

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