The International Space Station

  • Assembling the International Space Station [1998]
  • The Atlantis docks with the ISS [2001]
  • The Atlantis approaches the ISS [2000]
  • The Soyuz spacecraft undocks from the ISS [2001]
  • International Space Station over Earth [2002]
  • The International Space Station first expansion [2002]
  • Hurricane Ivan from the ISS [2008]
  • The Soyuz spacecraft approaches the ISS [2005]
  • The International Space Station from above [2006]
  • Maneuvering in space with the Canadarm2 [2006]
  • The International Space Station second expansion [2006]
  • The International Space Station third expansion [2007]
  • The ISS over the Ionian Sea [2007]
  • International Space Station fourth expansion [2009]

Click an image to view an interactive slide show of the ISS.
All images courtesy of the NASA Image Gallery.

The International Space Station or ISS is the largest research station ever launched into orbit. The ISS allows expedition crews to conduct experiments daily across a wide range of fields. The station also provides a docking location for spacecraft that will be required for long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and allows for equipment to be developed in the relatively safe location of space. Finally, in addition to the scientific and research aspects of the station, there are numerous opportunities for educational outreach and international cooperation. The ISS allows 14 nations to live and work together in space, providing important lessons that can be applied to future multi-national space missions.

The ISS is one of many man-made satellites that can be viewed from the ground. Since the station has little or no light of its own, you'll only be able to see the ISS when it's in sunlight and you're in near or total darkness. The best viewing times are the hours just before or after sunrise or sunset. The ISS is easy to locate and see under those conditions since it is much more brilliant than any satellite passing overhead.

The station should appear as a bright and fast moving star. The longest the ISS will remain in view is about 4 minutes; however for most locations, the viewing window will be less than 2 minutes. You can learn when the ISS will be visible to ground-based observers by going to the orbit tracking Web site maintained by Human Space Flight. When preparing to view the passing of the International Space Station, take an accurate timepiece with you. Be aware that the listed viewing times may vary by several seconds depending on atmospheric conditions. Because of its apparent speed across the sky, don't try to observe the ISS with your telescope; it will quickly move out of your view finder.