The size of the International Space Station is incomparable to anything else ever launched into space. With a total mass of approximately 420,000 kilograms (925,000 pounds), it resides 400 kilometres (250 miles) above Earth in one of the lowest possible orbits, meaning that it’s visible with the naked eye from the ground.
The ISS measures 108.8 metres (357 feet) from end to end, just shy of an American football field’s length. Much of its size is a result of the eight solar arrays that power the ISS, giving it a wingspan of 73 metres (240 feet). The 0.4 hectares (one acre) of solar panels produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 40 homes back on Earth.
Living space on the ISS is comparable to a six-bedroom house, and is equipped with a gym, two bathrooms and a 360-degree bay window, providing unrivalled views of Earth for the crew of up to six members.
At the time of its tenth anniversary back in 2010, the ISS had travelled over 2.4 billion kilometres (1.5 billion miles) and hosted more than 200 people. The ISS is still our best space laboratory; the research potential related to both life on Earth and in space is still vast, but the future of the ISS has been in danger. A decision had to be made as to whether it was worth keeping a piece of 1990s solar-powered technology that costs billions of dollars every year to operate and maintain.
The United States had previously considered decommissioning the ISS by 2016, but more recently NASA and Roscosmos have agreed to keep the station in orbit until 2024, after which Russia will focus on a station of their own. So the ISS will continue to serve humanity for a few more years at least.
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