Every day the International space station with its on-rotation habitants circle the earth continually and it is the biggest man made object ever put into space, lots of findings and key scientific facts have been found out about us as humans as well as the earth with groundbreaking experiments that have excelled our science and understanding as well as being invaluable to further space exploration missions planned, even with those to Mars and further afield. Here are some facts about the International Space Station you may not have known:
- The International Space Station (ISS) is a collaboration by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, The Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, this ISS is supported by the Canadian Space Agency (Canada), European Space Agency (Europe), NASA (United States of America), Roscosmos (Russia) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA/Japan).
- In 1998 work began on the construction of the ISS, it would have been impossible to build the space station on earth and propel it into space so it all was constructed on earth then each piece delivered by space shuttle where it was gradually built up in orbit some 400 kms up (248+ miles), the cost of the construction and delivery of the components required to build the space station cost an estimated 150 Billion (USD). There are running costs now that add up with a yearly running total of perhaps 10 Billion (USD).
- With a length 357.6 feet (109 meters) it has 932 cubic metres of internal total space, the hardware to run the ISS and its laboratories with life support services including storage take up two-thirds of this. The external dimensions are 109 metres (356 feet) by 73 meters (240 feet) including the massive solar energy array that produces around 65 Kilowatts of electricity a day for day to day running as well as the hardware to support ongoing laboratory experiments.
- The space stations weighs about 450 tons (408,000 kg), due to its relatively low orbit with gravitational effects it is not itself weighless as is falling back to earth due to earths pull and gravity but a near zero gravity more commonly referred to as a microgravity is experienced onboard.
- The space station is the longest inhabited space vehicle and working laboratory as well as observatory and science platform, people from 18 countries have visited it, tests carried out on board with the near Zero gravity environment include microbiological, robotics and agricultural-based experiments. Possibly the most notable is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) which detects dark matter that answers questions about our universe. It could not be set upon a free-flying satellite due to the power and bandwidth resources required and so the ISS was chosen to host it.
- The station had its first staying inhabitants on 2nd November 2000, since then it has had crews staying on permanent rotations, six at a time – not only do the Astronauts work on the Space station but they live there also, the missions last for periods of up to about six months normally but the longest staying crewmember was NASA astronaut Mike Lopez-Alegria who flew for 215 days.
- The ISS is in a geostationary orbit, this means that its point in space is kept at a constant relative distance, with the earth’s rotation rotation it appears to move and the speed is an astonishing 5 miles per second! It is always falling back to earth due to gravity but is kept in an optimal orbital position by the use of thrusters onboard, sometimes the visiting supply ships with their rockets may help a little with some boosts.
- The ISS circles the planet about every 90 minutes, you can view this satellite object quite easily on some rotations as a bright constant light moving across the sky, the light we see is of the sun reflecting off the outer hull. Not only with the ISS, but there are other satellite objects that can be viewed at night in the same way, sometimes with more than one in the sky at any one point that can be seen at a time as they pass, the best time to see the space station is at dusk or dawn.
- All the supplies onboard are taken there by visiting spaceships including the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply ship, Russia’s Progress 74 resupply ship, SpaceX Dragon space freighter and the Soyuz MS-13 and MS-15 crew ships. Up to five visiting spacecraft can be docked on the station at any one time, it is often used as a rendezvous point for supply ships and ongoing launch projects.
- Most of the unused materials are ejected into space, some material is returned to earth on returning space vehicles, materials are reused where they can be, this includes urine, sweat and body moisture produced by the crew and lab animals, in a filtration system, the cleanup process reclaims around 3.6 gallons a day of drinkable water.
- The Astronauts and lab animals need to breathe and this is accomplished by the process of electrolysis, an electrical current is passed through water molecules which then splits it into two components, hydrogen and oxygen, hydrogen gas that is not used for experiments is vented into space and the oxygen is piped around and supplied for the crewmembers.
- Most of the Astronauts time is taken up with maintenance on the ISS as space is a harsh environment with many dangers, one of these dangers is debris, the ISS have been breached before and protecting covers were placed over the exterior to prevent damage, space debris the size of sand and travelling at 5 over miles a second will cause damage, smaller objects that cannot be seen by eye or the long range detecting equipment such as optical, infrared, and radar telescopes continually pose a great risk, a 0.393701 inch (1cm) piece could cause critical damage whilst a 4 inch (10.16 cm) piece could potentially catastrophically cripple the ISS.
- There are 52 computers onboard the ISS and these have become infected with computer viruses several times, the first was a worm known as W32.Gammima.AG which original intent was to steal names and passwords to video games (on earth, not on a low orbit space vehicle!.
- You can actually smell space whilst aboard the ISS, it has been described as a metallic-ionization type smell and is experienced in the areas between the station and docking craft as they are pressurized.
- The ISS is set to be decommissioned in 2024 and a de-orbit has been planned but even then is still has plenty of life in it, the Russian built/American financed component “Zarya” that was launched in 1998 can still function until 2028 as well as “Unity” which was the first entirely American component launched the same year. Once the ISS burns up in the atmosphere creating a not to be missed light show, the Russians plan on adding modules to their new space station, OPSEK (Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experimental Complex).
Make sure to get outside and try to spot the ISS, if you google ‘International space station tracker’, you will be able to visually see when the space station passes overhead, and don’t forget to wave as the astronauts go by!