ISS: International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station in low Earth orbit with the purpose of being a laboratory, observatory, factory, and a manufacturing and launch facility.

Major elements and timeline

The ISS has been added to, rearranged, and modified since the first piece was launched in Nov 1998; however, most of the basic modules have remained the same.

  • 1 Trusses

    Launched between Oct 2001 and Mar 2009.

  • 2 Solar arrays and panels

  • 3 AMS   [2011]

    The alpha magnetic spectrometer (AMS) is a partical physics experiment module that searches for antimatter and dark matter. Launched May 2011.

  • 4 Radiators

  • 5 Columbus   [2008]

    European Space Agency science lab. Launched Feb 2008.

  • 6 PMA  [1998]

    Pressurized Mating Adapters 1, 2, and 3. Launched Dec 1998 and Oct 2000.

  • 7 Harmony   [2007]

    Node 2. Utility hub. Launched Oct 2007.

  • 8 Kibo   [2008]

    JEM (Japanese Experiment Module). Launched Mar 2008.

  • 9 Destiny   [2001]

    U.S. lab. Launched Jan 2001.

  • 10 Canadarm2   [2001]

    SSRMS (Space Station Remoter Manipulator System). Canadarm2 can “crawl” around the space station similar to an inchworm. Launched Apr 2001.

  • 11 Quest Joint Airlock   [2001]

    Launched July 2001.

  • 12 Leonardo   [2011]

    Multi-purpose module. Launched Feb 2011.

  • 13 Unity   [1998]

    Node 1. Connecting module. Launched Dec 1998.

  • 14 Tranquility   [2010]

    Node 3. Connecting module. Launched Feb 2010.

  • 15 BEAM   [2016]

    Bigelow Expandable Activity Module. Launched Apr 2016.

  • 16 Cupola   [2010]

    Launched Feb 2010.

  • 17 Rassvet   [2010]

    Russian mini-research module 1. Launched May 2010.

  • 18 Zarya   [1998]

    FGB (Functional Cargo Block). Zarya was the first module to be launched in Nov 1998.

  • 19 Poisk   [2009]

    Russian mini-research module 2. Launched Nov 2009.

  • 20 Pirs   [2001]

    Russian docking compartment and airlock. Launched Sept 2001.

  • 21 Zvezda   [2000]

    Russian service module. Launched July 2000.

U.S.A.    Russia    Japan    Europe    Canada

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Life aboard the ISS

  • 1 MWAs

    Node two has multiple maintenance work areas (MWAs) that act as “work benches” for astronauts.

  • 2 Crew quarters

    The crew quarters are one of the only places in the ISS where an astronaut may have a little bit of personal space. They house sleeping bags, laptops, and personal items for each crew member.

  • 3 Racks

    Research racks facilitate experiments in systematic combustion, fluid physics, materials, microgravity, observational Earth science, and biological and life sciences, among others.

  • 4 U.S. Lab robotic workstation

    The US lab robotic workstation is one of the workstations that can be used to control the Canadarm2. Also, since the ISS orbits the globe every 90 minutes, many of the work stations on the ISS also have a “world map” software that shows where the ISS is in relation to the earth.

  • 5 CEVIS

    The Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System (CEVIS) is primarily used for cardiovascular conditioning, and has foot straps for the astronaut to hold themselves in place.

  • 6 Eating

    Food on the ISS consists of items that can provide necessary nutrition while also easily and safely stored. Items can include drink mixes, irradiated meat, granola bars, freeze dried foods, tortillas, and condiments.


    The Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) can provide 1 g-like forces on the lower body. Astronauts strap themselves in with bungee cords.

  • 8 Restroom & hygiene area

    The restroom uses a suction system to pull waste and smells into a plastic bag and container. The air used for the suction is recycled through the ECLSS and reused in the station. “Showering” is accomplished with soap, water, and a towel to wipe down with. Other hygiene basics like brushing teeth are done here as well.

  • 9 ECLSS

    The Environment Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) consists of hardware to control carbon dioxide, contaminants, oxygen generation, water, human waste, nitrogen storage, oxygen storage, temperature, and humidity. The hardware is distributed throughout the entire station.

  • 10 Cupola

    The Cupola has 7 windows total and houses the largest window in space at 31 in (80 cm) across. It allows the crew to conduct experiments, observe the Earth, or assist in docking operations and spacewalks.

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Visiting spacecraft

Items shown in close proximity for better viewing. See ISS key in top right corner for actual module docking location

  • 1 Transporting crewmembers

    Since the NASA Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, crew members are transported to the ISS using Russian Soyuz MS spacecrafts. The Soyuz MS uses the SSVP (Sistema Stykovki i Vnutrennego Perekhoda) docking system; and has an orbital module, a reentry module, and a service module.

    Shown here moments before docking.

  • 2 Commercial resupply services

    Commercial resupply missions bring cargo to and from the ISS. NASA has contracts with SpaceX and Orbital ATK for these missions. SpaceX has used the Dragon spacecraft (shown), while Orbital ATK has used the Cygnus spacecraft (not shown).

    Canadarm2 can be used to maneuver the spacecraft into place for docking.