International Space Station

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The International Space Station (ISS) is an internationally developed research facility that is being assembled in low Earth orbit. On-orbit construction of the station began in 1998 and is scheduled for completion by late 2011. The station is expected to remain in operation until at least 2015, and likely 2020.[6][7] With a greater cross-sectional area than that of any previous space station, the ISS can be seen from Earth with the naked eye,[8] and is by far the largest artificial satellite that has ever orbited Earth.[9] The ISS serves as a research laboratory that has a microgravity environment in which crews conduct experiments in biology, chemistry, medicine, physiology and physics, as well as astronomical and meteorological observations.[10][11][12] The station provides a unique environment for the testing of the spacecraft systems that will be required for missions to the Moon and Mars.[13] The ISS is operated by Expedition crews of six astronauts and cosmonauts, with the station programme maintaining an uninterrupted human presence in space since the launch of Expedition 1 on 31 October 2000, a total of &000000000000001000000010 years and &000000000000006300000063 days. The programme thus holds the current record for the longest uninterrupted human presence in space, surpassing the previous record of 3,644 days, set aboard Mir.[14] As of 25 November 2010 (2010 -11-25), the crew of Expedition 26 is aboard.[15]

The ISS is a synthesis of several space station projects that include the American Freedom, the Soviet/Russian Mir-2, the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibō.[16][17] Budget constraints led to the merger of these projects into a single multi-national programme.[16] The ISS project began in 1994 with the Shuttle-Mir programme,[18] and the first module of the station, Zarya, was launched in 1998 by Russia.[16] Assembly continues, as pressurised modules, external trusses, and other components are launched by American space shuttles, Russian Proton rockets and Russian Soyuz rockets.[17] As of May 2010, the station consists of fourteen pressurised modules and an extensive integrated truss structure (ITS). Power is provided by sixteen solar arrays mounted on the external truss, in addition to four smaller arrays on the Russian modules.[19] The station is maintained at an orbit between 278 km (173 mi) and 460 km (286 mi) altitude, and travels at an average speed of 27,743.8 km/h (17,239.2 mph), completing 15.7 orbits per day.[20]

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