Musings of a Political Scientist

International Space Station

International Space Station

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is a manned research space facility that is being assembled in orbit around the Earth. It is a joint project between five space agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, United States), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA, Russian Federation), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA, Japan), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA, Canada) and the European Space Agency (ESA, Europe).

The Brazilian Space Agency (AEB, Brazil) participates through a separate contract with NASA. The Italian Space Agency similarly has separate contracts for various activities not done in the framework of ESA’s ISS works (where Italy also fully participates).

The space station is located in orbit around the Earth at an altitude of approximately 360 km (220 miles), a type of orbit usually termed low Earth orbit (The actual height varies over time by several kilometres due to atmospheric drag and reboosts). It orbits Earth in a period of about 92 minutes; by June 2005 it had completed more than 37,500 orbits since launch of the Zarya module on November 20, 1998.

In many ways the ISS represents a merger of previously planned independent space stations: Russia’s Mir 2, the U.S. Space Station Freedom and the planned European Columbus and Japanese Experiment Module.

Due to the ISS, there is a permanent human presence in space, as there have always been at least two people on board ISS since the first permanent crew entered the ISS on November 2, 2000. It is serviced primarily by the Soyuz, Progress spacecraft units and Space Shuttle. The ISS is currently still under construction with a projected completion date of 2010. At present, the station has a capacity for a crew of three. Prior to ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter joining the Expedition 13 crew in July 2006, all permanent crewmembers have come from the Russian or United States space programs. The ISS has however been visited by astronauts from twelve countries and was also the destination of the first four space tourists.

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