A floating research laboratory in space
Can you imagine a floating laboratory in space in weightless conditions, and all for the benefit of people and industry on Earth? Well, it already exists! It’s the International Space Station (ISS) that will remain in orbit at an altitude of approximately 400 kilometres above the Earth and will provide a permanent human
presence in space over the next 10 to 15 years.
The ISS is like a large “jigsaw puzzle”
Once fully assembled, around 2006, the Station will be the largest man-made structure ever to fly in space. Completed it will
weigh 455 tonnes.
With a length of some 100 metres and a width of some 80 metres it will sprawl across an area the size of a football field.
The Space Station’s pressurised volume of 1200 cubic metres will be equivalent to that of two Boeing 747 jumbo jets, currently the biggest commercial plane in the
world. There will be enough room to house up to seven crew members and a vast array of scientific experiments.
To date, there is no rocket big enough or powerful enough to launch such a large structure into space. Like a “jigsaw puzzle”,
the Station will therefore be assembled in about 100 pieces which will have to be carried into space by more than 50 launches of different spacecraft. In order for the pieces to fit together it is important that each nation involved uses the same
standards (size configuration and support systems). The assembly of these pieces will be performed through the use of robotic
arms from both the American Space Shuttle and the Space Station while the astronauts will help to complete the work with a
total of 160 “spacewalks”.