What is International Space Station (ISS)?

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May 29, 2023

The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station that was assembled in low earth orbit (LEO) by the United States and Russia, with assistance and components from a multinational consortium. It is a collaborative effort between multiple space agencies, including Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Federal Space Agency of Russia (Roscosmos), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), European Space Agency (ESA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The ISS has been inhabited continuously and serves as an important platform for research and exploration in space. The success of the ISS is largely due to the implementation of various space standards and agreements, which helps to ensure that the station is designed, operated, and maintained safely and efficiently.

The project, which initially started as an American effort, was delayed by funding and technical problems. It was named Freedom in the 1980s by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who authorized NASA to build it within a decade. However, it was later redesigned to reduce costs and expand international involvement, and it was renamed the International Space Station (ISS).

History of the International Space Station (ISS)

In 1993, the United States and Russia agreed on merging their separate space stations into a single operating facility, collaborating on their specific modules and clubbing the contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan. Assembly of the ISS began with the launches of the Russian control module Zarya in November 1998, followed by the U.S.-built Unity connecting node the next month. The Russian-built module Zvezda, a habitat and control center, was added in mid-2000, and the ISS received its first resident crew in November of that year, comprising Russian cosmonauts Sergey Krikalev, Yuri Gidzenko and American astronaut William Shepherd in a Soyuz spacecraft. Since then, the ISS has been continuously occupied. Construction of the ISS involved Canada, Japan, and 11 ESA members. Russian modules were carried into space by Russian expendable launch vehicles, which were automatically assembled and docked to the ISS. Many other components were transported up by space shuttle and were assembled in orbit. The transportation of people to and from the station continued during the construction of the ISS through shuttles and Russian Soyuz Spacecraft, and a Soyuz remained to the ISS. Crews flew up to and returned from the ISS in Soyuz spacecraft, and the station was serviced by automated Progress Transporters. The ISS became fully operational in May 2009 when it began hosting a six-person crew, which typically consisted of three Russians, two Americans, and one astronaut from either Japan, Canada, or the ESA. After the completion of the ISS construction, the shuttle was retired from service in 2011. Thereafter the servicing of ISS has been taken care of by Europe’s ATV, Russia’s Progress, Japan’s H-II Transfer Vehicle, and two commercial cargo vehicles, Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus and SpaceX’s Dragon. In 2020, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon had its first flight to the ISS, and the Boeing Company’s CST-100 Starliner was scheduled to have its first crewed test flight in 2023. Soyuz spacecraft was used to reach the ISS by all astronauts before Crew Dragon. The ISS was able to accommodate a crew of seven when the Crew Dragon carried four astronauts to the station. More than 200 astronauts from 20 different countries have visited the station, conducted ground-breaking research, and pushed the boundaries of human space exploration. Despite the remarkable achievements and discoveries made on the ISS, the future of the program is uncertain. Regardless of the future programs, the ISS will remain a testament to the power of international cooperation and the potential of human space exploration. The achievements of the astronauts who have visited the station, and the discoveries they have made, will continue to inspire generations to come.

ISS International Agreements and Space Standards


The International Space Station (ISS) is an outstanding example of international cooperation between five major space agencies - the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan. It is a permanent, inhabited space station in low Earth orbit that was developed and is operated and utilized by these agencies. The ISS Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) is a legal framework that outlines the responsibilities and obligations of the participating space agencies. The IGA ensures that the ISS is operated cooperatively and that resources and responsibilities are shared equitably.

The first level is the International Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement or the IGA. This key government-level document was signed by fifteen governments involved in the project in 1998, and it establishes a long-term international cooperative framework for the detailed design, development, operation, and utilization of a permanently inhabited civil space station for peaceful purposes by international law. For each of the countries and their jurisdiction and control concerning their Space Station elements, the rights and obligations are determined by IGA. 

The second level of the legal framework consists of four Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) between NASA and each cooperating space agency. This MoU describes in detail the roles and responsibilities of the agencies in the design, development, operation, and utilization of the Station. They also serve to establish the management structure and interfaces necessary to ensure effective utilization of the Station.

The third level of the legal framework consists of various Bilateral Implementing Arrangements between the space agencies. Among the national agencies, these arrangements are distributed with concrete guidelines and tasks.

The Intergovernmental Agreement allows the Space Station Partner States to extend their national jurisdiction in outer space, so the elements they provide are assimilated into the territories of the Partner States. This means that the United States, Russia, the European Partner, Japan, and Canada, who own the Space Station, are legally responsible for the respective elements they provide. The European States are treated as one entity, called the European Partner, but any of the European States may extend their respective national laws and regulations to the European elements, equipment, and personnel.

Each Partner may utilize equipment and facilities in or on each other Partner’s elements by their respective ‘utilization rights.’ These rights are defined in the Intergovernmental Agreement and the different Memoranda of Understanding. Partners providing ISS user elements, retain the use of those elements (e.g.: - research laboratories), while Partners providing resources and infrastructure elements to operate and use the ISS elements, can use certain elements in exchange as a fixed share. ESA and the other ISS International Partners can barter or sell their unused utilization rights among themselves and to other non-participants in the Station’s program. The International Space Station legal framework recognizes fundamental liability rules concerning space activities, outlined in international space law treaties such as the Liability Convention (1972), and it goes even further. The IGA establishes a 'cross-waiver of liability' that prohibits any of the five Partners or their related entities from claiming against another Partner in case something goes wrong.

One of the most important space standards for the ISS is the International Docking System Standard (IDSS), which provides guidelines for the design and operation of docking systems used by spacecraft visiting the ISS. The IDSS ensures that docking systems are compatible with the ISS, which is critical for the safe and efficient transfer of crew and supplies.

Another important space standard for the ISS is the International Space Station Medical Operations Standard (ISSMO), which provides guidelines for the medical management of crew health during space missions. The ISSMO ensures that crew members receive appropriate medical care and that medical systems and equipment on the ISS are designed and operated safely and effectively.

International Space Station (ISS) Benefits for Humanity

The International Space Station (ISS) has generated benefits for humanity in various ways, including engineering development, international partnerships, and research results and applications.

The engineering development of the ISS is considered one of the greatest achievements in aerospace history. The different components that form the ISS were built in various countries across the international partnership, then transported into space where they had to come together correctly and work. Specific technologies were developed to meet the needs for the design and construction of the vehicle. The International Space Station (ISS) is transitioning to a significant point in an assembly that will provide new facilities and expanded capabilities for basic and applied physical science research in microgravity. Unique laboratory conditions are provided in ISS in a Microgravity environment which is impossible to create on Earth. For Research and educational activities, more than 63 countries have participated. The Research results from science and technological activities in ISS have contributed to Earth applications, knowledge improvisations, and help for the next steps in exploration activity

The research results can be broken down into three areas of benefit: scientific discovery, applications to future exploration, and applications to life on Earth. Scientific discoveries come from instrument data or from being able to carry out experiments that cannot be done on Earth. For example, the discovery of a supermassive black hole consuming a star is an example of pure scientific discovery from the ISS. The ISS has also made substantial contributions to our ability to operate continuously in orbit for over a decade. Experience in building and operating the ISS has increased our readiness level for missions beyond Earth orbit. The ISS also serves as a test bed to prove the readiness of new technologies before they are used on future missions. Research results and engineering activities on the ISS also can improve the lives of people on Earth – not only within the ISS partner nations but also for all the nations of the world. For instance, clean water is essential to maintain proper health on Earth and in space. The Water Recovery System (WRS) onboard the ISS recycles water for the crewmembers. The filtration technology in the WRS uses iodinated resin to control microbial growth in water. This technology has been adapted for filtration systems on Earth in regions that lack clean water.


Space Missions - A list of all Space Missions


Name Date
Altius 01 May, 2025
AWS 01 Mar, 2024
Eutelsat Quantum 30 Jul, 2021
Sentinel 6 21 Nov, 2020
Cheops 18 Dec, 2019
EDRS 06 Aug, 2019
Small Geostationary Satellite 17 Nov, 2018
BepiColombo 20 Oct, 2018
Aeolus 22 Aug, 2018
Sentinel 3B 25 Apr, 2018


Name Date
EOS-2 07 Aug, 2022
EOS-4 14 Feb, 2022
EOS-3 12 Aug, 2021
EOS-1 07 Nov, 2020
RISAT-2BR1 11 Dec, 2019
Cartosat-3 27 Nov, 2019
Chandrayaan II 06 Sep, 2019
RISAT-2B 22 May, 2019
Resourcesat-2A 07 Dec, 2016
AstroSat 28 Sep, 2015


Name Date
NEO Surveyor 01 Jun, 2028
Libera 01 Dec, 2027
Europa Clipper 10 Oct, 2024
SpaceX CRS-29 09 Nov, 2023
Psyche 13 Oct, 2023
DSOC 13 Oct, 2023
Psyche Asteroid 05 Oct, 2023
Expedition 70 27 Sep, 2023
SpaceX Crew-7 25 Aug, 2023
STARLING 18 Jul, 2023