Can humans live in space? If so, for how long? What effect will zero gravity have on the body? These are just a few of the questions that were sparked by man’s first ventures into space atop repurposed nuclear ballistic missiles in the early 1960s. To answer these questions, a series of space stations were built throughout the latter half of the 20th century with names like Skylab and Mir.
As one would imagine, real estate in earth orbit is pretty expensive what with having to transport all the building materials with rockets and all. To save money and to prove that people from different countries really can work together well (even when those countries include Russia and the United States), several nations signed onto a treaty to build the International Space Station.
Here are 17 things you probably didn’t know about the ISS.
1. It has been continuously occupied for over 14 years
That’s the longest uninterrupted human presence in space, and it’s still going.
2. Five space agencies participated in the ISS project
These include NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), ESA (European Union), JAXA (Japan), and CSA (Canada).
3. The ISS was pieced together slowly, one module at a time
It currently consists of 14 pressurized modules (for human habitation) and a variety of other sections. Each part was placed in orbit either by the U.S. Space Shuttle or Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets.
4. The ISS is divided between Russian and American sections
Just like Berlin. While the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) is exclusive to Roscosmos, the United States Orbital Segment (USOS) is shared by a number of nations.
5. The International Space Station is bigger than a football field
And it weighs nearly one million pounds. But that doesn’t mean there’s much room on the inside.
6. The ISS orbits 250 miles above the earth’s surface
That’s considered Low Earth Orbit.
7. But it falls about a mile per month
It constantly has to be boosted higher by its own engines or a visiting spacecraft.
8. The ISS sees 16 sunrises a day
Since it travels at over 17,000 mph, it orbits the earth every 90 minutes.
9. Over 200 people from 15 different nations have spent time on the ISS
It’s like a really, really nerdy U.N.
10. The ISS has a treadmill named after Stephen Colbert
Yes, that Stephen Colbert.
11. The station is designed to accommodate six crew members at a time
On board, quarters are tight and gravity-free showering, eating, and sleeping takes a bit of getting used to.
12. The ISS gets its power from an acre of solar panels
They produce around 84 kilowatts of electricity. The total solar panel area is one acre!
13. The ISS is the second brightest object in the night sky
After the moon of course. Due to its size, proximity, and reflectiveness, it’s about as bright as Venus. It’s even visible in broad daylight—good luck finding it though.
14. The Russian Soyuz has become the only way to transport astronauts (or cosmonauts) to and from the ISS
Since the Space Shuttle was grounded forever, it's been hard to get up there. It’s time to listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson. The Russians have the upper hand here.
15. They regularly get deliveries from unmanned rockets
To keep the station’s crew fed and equipped, unmanned cargo vehicles must be launched at regular intervals. Space ice cream anyone?
16. There have been 187 spacewalks from the ISS
Many of these were to perform maintenance on the station itself, not an excuse for the astronauts to stretch their legs.