The International Space Station is a partnership of the US, Russian, European, Japanese, and Canadian Space Agencies. The station has been continuously human occupied since Nov 2, 2000. Orbiting 16 times per day at 17,500 miles per hour 250 miles above the ground, it passes over 90% of the world’s surface. When complete in 2010, it will weigh over 800,000 pounds and have a crew of 6 conducting research and preparing the way for future exploration to the moon and beyond.
Destiny, weighing about 32,000 pounds without outfitting and about the size of a school bus, can accommodate 24 racks of equipment. The side of Destiny that usually faces Earth contains a large circular window of very high optical quality for earth observing and astronaut photography. Besides research facilities, Destiny also temporarily houses environmental control and life support and habitation equipment.
Europe’s Columbus Research Laboratory weighs over 42,000 pounds equipped. It includes both a large pressurized facility where the crew conducts experiments in areas like material science, fluid physics and biosciences and an external facility for mounting experiments exposed to the space environment. Ground control for this laboratory is located at Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, Germany.
The Japanese Experiment Module Kibo, meaning “Hope”, is actually a three part research complex including a large laboratory module weighing over 35,000 pounds equipped, a storage module, and an External Facility for conducting research in the harsh space environment. It also has a robotic arm to handle and transport research payloads between the exposed site and the Kibo airlock. Ground control for Kibo is located at Tsukuba, Japan.