Space Exploration Pictures
Space Exploration Pictures

Space Exploration Pictures The International Space Station. See more pictures of space exploration.

Image courtesy of NASA

Imagine you wake up in the morning, look out your window and see the vast blue horizon of Earth and the blackness of space. Our world stretches out beneath you. Mountains, lakes and oceans pass by in a beautiful stream of rapidly changing scenery as you orbit the Earth every 90 minutes. Sounds like something unreal out of a science fiction novel, right? For the crews of the International Space Station (ISS), it's a reality.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proposed a permanently inhabited, government- and industry-supported space station be built by the United States in cooperation with several other countries. The U.S. along with 14 other countries -- Canada, Japan, Brazil, and the European Space Agency (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden) decided to bring Reagan's vision to fruition. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States invited Russia to cooperate in the ISS project, which was still in its planning stages, bringing the number of participating countries to 16.

NASA took the lead in coordinating the ISS's construction, and today the ISS serves as an orbiting laboratory for experiments in life, physical, earth and materials sciences. Its assembly in orbit began in 1998. The ISS has about 38 modules and requires at least 44 spaceflights to deliver the components into orbit. One-hundred sixty spacewalks, totaling 1,920 man-hours, are required to assemble and maintain the ISS. The ISS is scheduled for completion in 2011 and will have an anticipated life of 10 years after that. Cost estimates of this stellar project range from $35 billion to more than $100 billion [source: NASA ISS Reference guide and Boyle].

In this article, we'll look at the parts of the ISS, how it maintains a permanent environment for humans in space, how it's powered, what it's like to live and work on the ISS, and how, exactly, we'll use the ISS. First, we'll start with its parts and assembly.