10 Lesser-Known Facts About the International Space Station

September 9, 2015 | Sarah Tse

A view of Earth from the International Space Station
Photo credit: NASA

Ever since its launch 17 years ago, the International Space Station (ISS) has spurred the fantasies of millions of children who dreamt of one day becoming an astronaut. As an international collaboration, it has advanced space technology for all mankind, from zero-gravity cancer research to space salads. But you probably didn’t know these strange facts about the station:


1.       You can see the ISS with your naked eye.  

In fact, NASA offers a service that pinpoints your location and tells you when and where to look up and get a peek at the massive satellite. You can even sign up to receive alerts on your phone.

2.       The station moves at a speed of 5 miles per second 

That's fast enough to orbit the planet every 90 minutes. This means astronauts onboard get to witness 15 sunrises and sunsets every day.

3.       If mankind is destroyed in some cataclysmic event, don’t worry—we’ll be preserved in the Immortality Drive.

This device contains the digitized DNA of Stephen Hawking, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Colbert, and Playboy model Jo Garcia, among other eclectic selections. The drive also carries a list of our achievements and some personal messages. Richard Garriott, a multimillionaire game designer, built the drive and brought it to the ISS in 2008. 

4.       Pizza Hut delivered a six inch salami pie to the ISS in 2001.

They paid $1 million to display their logo on the Russian module Zarya, and cosmonaut Yury Usachov prepared the pizza.

5.       Stephen Colbert almost had a module  named after him.

NASA held a naming poll for a new module being launched in 2009, and Colbert urged his viewers to vote for him. He won by more than 40,000 votes, but NASA ultimately decided to name the module “Tranquility.” As a consolation, they christened a treadmill with Colbert’s name.

6.       The Russians keep a few guns onboard the vessel, although everyone has access to them.

The Soyuz spacecraft began carrying firearms in 1965, after cosmonauts reportedly encountered some unfriendly bears during an off-course landing.*

7.       The microgravity conditions make congested sinuses a problem for many of the astronauts.

As a result, they can barely taste the food—although that may not be a downside since the meals are all canned, dehydrated, or otherwise heavily processed. “We get through gallons of Tabasco sauce,” said Piers Sellers, a British astronaut, in a 2008 interview with The Guardian.

8.       Anyone with a Ham radio can strike up a conversation with ISS astronauts.

Adrian Lane, a Ham radio enthusiast from Gloucestershire, England, had a 45-second chat with a US astronaut on August 6. NASA later confirmed there is a Ham radio set to public frequency onboard the station that some astronauts use during their downtime.

9.       It costs $350,000 per hour to keep the station aloft, so each astronaut’s time is an incredibly valuable resource.

This means every movement and action throughout the day is meticulously planned and choreographed by a team of 50 Mission Control staffers.

10.     No matter how well the shuttles and equipment are disinfected before take-off, some microbes always manage to hitch a ride into space.

As the bacteria, fungi, and mold develops in any moisture they find, the water condenses into free-floating globs of infectious water that pose a huge hazard to crew members.


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