Infographic: How the International Space Station Works – Depending on where you are on Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) looks like a moving star low on the horizon — it is easily visible to the naked eye on a clear morning. As the International Space Station (ISS) completes its fourteenth year in space — and its twelfth year as a continuously human-inhabited space and science mission — it’s a great time to take a deep dive.

Here’s what it’s all about, what’s going on up there and some facts about it I gathered for the occasion. Also below, find photos, videos and links to infographics that explain how they built this incredibly complicated thing.

Scroll below the fold for an infographic to see how the ISS works inside and out.

The ISS — a joint venture of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) representing 20 plus countries —  has made some remarkable achievements. Those include its very construction — plus never before possible studies in physics, chemistry, microgravity, materials science and biology — and most notably, human medical research that’s required to send humans beyond Earth orbit psychologically and physiologically.

And of course, there’s that Angry Birds experiment, perfectly timed with the Angry Birds Space launch early this year. The ISS crew has a lot of fun with tech topics. Here, an American astronaut uses Angry Birds to demonstrate the principles of microgravity — for kids, ostensibly.

Back to serious matters, there are of course detractors who say a robotic mission would be capable of achieving much more without men and women on board. That’s undoubtedly true. But the ISS station still has makes an ideal platform for scientific experiments.

The ISS won’t be up there forever. Because the ISS was not parked at aLagrange Point – that is, a triangulated stable orbital point such as L5, its orbit will gradually decay and re-enter the Earth atmosphere in a heap of flame. Why its designers did not park the ISS at a Lagrange point is another story, but its demise isn’t imminent, though. Engineers believe the ISS’s mission will last at least until 2028.

One thing that’s easy to forget is the sheer enormity of the ISS. Here’s a NASA rendering of it on a metaphorical American football field.

International Space Station Size & Mass Facts:

Module Length: 167.3 feet (51 meters)

Truss Length: 357.5 feet (109 meters)

Solar Array Length: 239.4 feet (73 meters)

Mass: 924,739 pounds (419,455 kilograms)

Habitable Volume: 13,696 cubic feet (388 cubic meters)

Pressurized Volume: 32,333 cubic feet (916 cubic meters)

Power Generation: 8 solar arrays = 84 kilowatts

Lines of Computer Code: approximately 2.3 million

Source: NASA

Check out the ISS SpaceStationLive channel here and NASA’s instructions on seeing the ISS from Earth. Another site I like – Heavens-Above – lets you check out other satellites and man-made objects, too, and it includes a 10-day forecast.

If you missed the ISS crew’s Thanksgiving message, it’s embedded below.

The present ISS mission — expedition 34 – began just last month on Nov. 18. This ISS crew is led by Commander Kevin Ford of the US and flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin of the Russian Federation.  The crew began its mission on Nov. 18.  In December, these astronauts will be joined by three more crew members Thomas Marshburn (US), Chris Hadfield (Canada), and Roman Romanenko (Russian Federation).  Expedition 34 is scheduled to return to Earth in March 2013.

This infographic, from Space.Com, is a 2010 rendering of the ISS — inside and out. It’s still darned remarkable.

Follow the International Space Station's (ISS) construction and development history from this infographic provided by
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There also is a great animation online — created by artists at NASA and at “USA Today” — that shows how world space agencies assembled the ISS piece by piece. It is well worth checking out.

Expect something for the holiday season from the ISS folks. Happy Holidays. Covering space for, I’m Tom Ewing.

Based in Silicon Valley and Tulsa, OK, Tom Ewing is a patent attorney who instructs other attorneys internationally via the United Nations World International Patent Organization, or WIPO, in Geneva. He also is a columnist following world issues and science topics for Follow +Thomas on Google+ or email him at [email protected]

Gina Smith

Gina Smith

Editorial Director at
Gina Smith is the NYT best-selling author of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s memoir, "iWOZ: How I Invented the Personal Computer and Had Fun Doing It." She is editorial director at Reach her at [email protected], Google + or @ginasmith888.
Gina Smith
Gina Smith
Tags: Downtime,Tech Culture,Technology