Inside the International Space Station
The International Space Station is a joint venture between five space agencies: NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. Construction required launching individual modules (most often aboard U.S. space shuttles) and assembling them in space. The majority of the construction took place between 1998 and 2014, but further work continues to be done.
The station itself, which is approximately the size of an American football field, is generally divided into two pressurized sections, one Russian and one American. The two parts are connected by the Unity Node. Roughly at the center of the station is the 356-foot long unpressurized Integrated Truss Structure (ITS). The station's main solar arrays and thermal radiators are attached to the ITS. The ISS also contains several external cranes and robotic arms attached to various modules.
Within the two pressurized sections, there is a total of 32,333 cubic feet, of which 13,696 cubic feet are habitable. There are thirteen individual modules, within which are research and living areas. These will be described below. There is also a small cupola (attached to Tranquility) with seven windows, which allows astronauts awesome views of Earth below them.
The Russian Section
Zarya - This was the first module to be launched and facilitated construction of the station. It is about 41 feet long by 13 feet wide and is now used mostly for storage.
Zvezda - Provides critical life support systems, living space for two, and computers that control guidance and navigation for the entire station.
Pirs and Poisk - Two airlock modules that are each connected on opposite sides of Zvezda. The inward-swinging airlock doors are improvements over earlier designs which failed on the Russian Mir. Pirs is scheduled to be replaced by the Nauka module in 2017.
Rassvet - A Mini-Research Module. It is used for cargo storage and has a docking port for visiting spacecraft.
The American Section
Unity Node - This is the connecting module between the Russian and American sections. The module is cylindrical in shape and contains environmental control and life support systems. It is the main connection as well for the electrical and computer systems aboard the ISS.
Leonardo - A storage unit connected to Unity
Quest - An airlock used for spacewalks. Storage of both Russian and American spacesuits. Crews scheduled for spacewalks can sleep in this module.
Tranquility - A module used for recycling waste water and generation of oxygen needed on board.
Destiny - The main research facility for American payloads on board. It looks like a long tunnel with storage racks on the walls.
Harmony Node - Connection site for other modules as well connections for electrical and computer systems. The module contains very comfortable sleeping space for four. The U.S. space shuttles used to dock to Harmony's port.
Columbus - The main research facility for European payloads on board. Facilities are specialized for biology, biomedical research, and fluid physics.
Kibo - The largest single module on board. The laboratory facilities are used for a wide variety of research fields. There is an airlock that allows research to be conducted outside the station, a cargo bay for storage, and a communications facility for transmitting data to Earth.
Future additions are planned for the ISS, but many of these are slowed by budget concerns and questions of how long the station will remain active.