The International Space Station is a big building built by many countries where very important scientific research is done, but you won’t find it on any world map. It’s in outer space!
This very special building is about the size of a football field, though the spaces where people live and work aren’t very large. The largest section of the space station was built by Japan and is only about the size of a bus!
The space station travels around the earth about 16 times every day. It's just far enough away that gravity doesn't yank it down to the ground, but it's still about 200 miles high! The only way people can get up there is by rocket or space shuttle! The Astronauts that visit study all sorts of things from how different chemicals act in outer space (where there is no gravity!) to how people interact with each other while spending a long time together in a tight space! You might be surprised, but one of the most common things astronauts study from the space station is the Earth! They watch our weather and they watch our planet as it changes. They can see things we can’t because we’re too close to the ground. Imagine going all the way to space to just study the Earth!
Is There Only One?
The International Space Station is the only working space station in orbit now, but there have been eleven others! The first nine were part of a Russian program back when Russia was known as the USSR. The first one, called "Salyut 1," went up into space in 1971. After those first nine came Skylab, which was built by the Americans. Next came Mir, built by the USSR/Russia, and then came the International Space Station which has been built by Russia, Japan, the European Space Agency, Italy, Canada and the United States! The first pieces of the International Space Station were launched in 1998, and it's still being built! It's like a big group project!
Life in Space!
The International Space Station was the hotel for the first six outer space tourists! Six people, who aren’t professional astronauts, got a chance to spend their vacations floating far above the planet. Of course, they had to help out with research and experiments while they were up there, so it wasn’t all relaxing. But it was still quite a trip!
Imagine if you were on the space station. What do you think life would be like? Most astronauts spend several months at a time up on the space station in those very tiny rooms. They can’t just go outside and take a walk when they feel like it. How would you feel if you were trapped in your home for six months and unable to leave? Most likely you’d be stuck with a bunch of strangers too! They might not even speak your language!
Astronauts also have to exercise two and a half hours every day just to keep their muscles working normally. The lack of gravity in space makes muscles weak after a while. How would you feel about having to do that workout?
All things considered, it might be pretty cool to be up there just for the views. You’d see many more stars than you could ever see on Earth. Our atmosphere blocks many of them out. You’d also see about 16 sunrises and sunsets every day! And you’d get to float around without any gravity to pull you down! Unfortunately, the space station isn’t taking any more visitors. Maybe someday they’ll start again, and maybe you’ll be one of them! Maybe you'll be an astronaut and going to the space station will just be part of your job!