The International Space Station: 20 Years of Living and Working off the Planet

A celebration of the International Space Station’s 20th Anniversary of uninterrupted human presence on board our International Space Station (ISS).

The International Space Station photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking.NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) is our preeminent human space flight program today. We started designing ISS in 1984. We began assembling it, in orbit, in 1998.

The amazing design, development and assembly of ISS was accomplished by an international partnership of NASA together with the European, Japanese and Canadian and Russian Space Agencies. This multinational collaboration results in a technological and cultural mix that symbolizes what nations can achieve by working together.

A Bridge Above: 20 Years of the International Space StationNASA

FE Caldwell Dyson works with the MERLIN in the US Lab (2010-07-18)NASA

The International Space Station began as a cooperative effort between the United States, Canada, Japan and nations of the European Space Agency, to design and build a large space station housing research laboratories. The laboratories would study the space environment and the effects of the environment on living things, materials, and material processes.

Skylab (1973-01-01)NASA

During the space age, first men and then women learned to fly in space. Then the first space stations, like the Russian Salyut and NASA's Skylab were launched into orbit. Then individual modules were assembled to form more advanced Stations like Russia’s Mir Orbital Station (1986).

View of the International Space Station in orbit (1998-12-13)NASA

The station was designed from the outset to be modular. Modularity permitted reconfiguration and maintainability. Modules were sized to be carried to orbit by the US Space Shuttle. Later, Russia joined the International Space Station program and contributed modules based on those used in their successful Mir orbital station.

The first two modules, the Russian Zarya Functional Cargo Module, and the US Unity Node 1, were locked together in 1998.

Veg-01 Plant Harvest (2014-06-10)NASA

This high-flying international laboratory is packed with some of the most technologically sophisticated facilities that can support a wide range of scientific inquiry in biology, human physiology, physical and materials sciences, and Earth and space science. There is probably no single place on Earth where you can find such a laboratory—approximately the size of an American football field and having the interior volume of 1.5 Boeing 747 jetliners—with facilities to conduct the breadth of research that can be done aboard the ISS.

ISS Flyaround views from STS-119 (2009-03-25)NASA

The ISS is an unprecedented technological and political achievement in global human endeavors to conceive, plan, build, operate, and utilize a research platform in space. It is the latest step in humankind’s quest to explore and live in space.

STS-116 MS Curbeam,Jr.,and Fuglesang work on S1 Truss during EVA 1 (2006-12-13)NASA

As on-orbit assembly of the ISS was completed—including all international partner laboratories and elements—it developed into a unique research facility capable of unraveling the mysteries of life on Earth. We can use the ISS as a human-tended laboratory in low-Earth orbit to conduct multidiscipline research in biology and biotechnology, materials and physical science, technology advancement and development, and research on the effects of long-duration space flight on the human body. The results of the research completed on the ISS may be applied to various areas of science, enabling us to improve life on this planet and giving us the experience and increased understanding to journey to other worlds.

International Space Station (ISS) (2001-04-01)NASA

The ISS has had a continuous human presence since November 2, 2000. The flight systems provide a safe, comfortable, and livable environment in which crew members can perform scientific research. These flight systems include habitation accommodations, environmental controls, medical and health support, and computing and data management.

To this day, 241 individuals from 19 countries have visited the International Space Station. An international crew of six live and work aboard the ISS. Between December 1998 and March 2019, over 4,200 investigators representing more than 100 countries and counting carried out almost 3,000 completed and ongoing investigations.

Daily Life Aboard the Space Station With Astronaut Tom Marshburn | NASA ISS Science VideoNASA

Here, Astronaut Tom Mashburn takes us on a tour of the ISS, giving us a glimpse into the daily life of astronauts onboard.

Curious to know more? Explore the ISS and experience where the station’s crew lives and works!

The Cupola module serves as an observation deck and flight deck for control of spacewalks, spacecraft flying near the station, and robots outside of the station. It’s also a great place to observe and photograph Earth!

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko participates in a session of extravehicular activity EVA to continue outfitting the International Space Station.NASA

The ISS is the most complex engineering and construction project of all time and ranks among the most historic wonders of mankind — and this is just the beginning!

ISS is a prototype of a vehicle that could carry people to another planet. A spacecraft designed to carry people on a months long mission to another planet will require many of the same systems as are being tested on the ISS.

SpaceX CRS-14 Liftoff (2018-04-02) by NASA/Tony Gray; Tim Powers; Tim TerryNASA

The 20 years of continued human presence on the ISS have set the stage for our future in space. The International Space Station will continue to serve as the world’s leading laboratory where researchers can conduct cutting-edge research and technology development to enable human and robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars. The space station will also facilitate the growth of additional privately owned spaceships for continued research and transportation in low-Earth orbit.

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