Final ISS
The ISS today. NASA
The Final ISS in space with the Earth in the background

The Final ISS

The final rendition of the International Space Station. This image was captured by NASA in April 2016, 18 years after the first piece was launched.

The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the most complex structures ever built and serves as an orbiting laboratory for astronauts from all over the world, but it didn’t happen over night. Construction of the ISS started way back in 1998 when its first module entered orbit. Since then, it’s expanded quite a lot while providing researchers with extremely valuable data about life in space, which is vital if we ever plan on leaving Earth. So with a new inflatable piece just added to the structure, let’s take a look back at how the ISS got to this point.

ISS Assembly Mission 1 A/R in orbit

ISS Assembly Mission 1 A/R

Launched on November 20, 1998, the first module of the ISS was sent into orbit. This piece, dubbed the Zarya Control Module, provides battery power, fuel storage and a place to dock. Basically, the Zarya module contained many of the necessary things needs to keep the station going and served as its core.
ISS Assembly Mission 2A in the orbit

ISS Assembly Mission 2A

The next piece to go up was the Unity Node, which was delivered by Space Shuttle Endeavour on December 6, 1998, making it the first piece of the ISS delivered by the US. Inside the node was a bunch of mechanical tools and pipelines for fuel.
ISS Assembly Mission 1R in the orbit

ISS Assembly Mission 1R

Things are starting to come together! This image was taken on July 12, 2000 shortly after the Zvezda Service Module was added the ISS. Unlike the other modules, which were mainly to keep the ISS running, the Zvezda provided living quarters and life support functioning!
ISS Assembly Mission 3A in space

ISS Assembly Mission 3A

Delivered by astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery on, this module, named the Z1-Truss, providing four Control Moment Gyroscopes (CMGs). These are what the ISS uses to control its altitude.
ISS Assembly Mission 4A above the Earth

ISS Assembly Mission 4A

Here comes solar! On December 9, 2000, NASA astronauts delivered and installed the P6 Truss atop the Z1-Truss to provide the station with solar power. This is around the time that the ISS starts to look like the one we know and love today.
ISS Assembly Mission 5A with the Earth in the background

ISS Assembly Mission 5A

Next, the crew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis attached the Destiny Laboratory Module. Also, the crew set up the CMGs that were delivered with the Z1-Truss. By doing so, they enabled the station to actually control its altitude electronically.
ISS Assembly Mission 6A above the Earth

ISS Assembly Mission 6A

On April 29, 2001, the Space Shuttle Endeavour crew installed the racks of the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. Also, the station’s robotic arm, called Canadarm2, was installed, allowing astronauts to grab things from the safety of the living quarters.
ISS Assembly Mission 7A in the space

ISS Assembly Mission 7A

The Quest airlock was added to the structure in July 2001 by astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. While that doesn’t sound that cool, the airlock is the thing needed for astronauts to perform space walks, which is by far the most awesome looking thing they do.
ISS Assembly Mission 8A in space with the Earth in the background

ISS Assembly Mission 8A

Next up was the S0 Truss Structure, delivered by the STS-110 crew (Space Shuttle Atlantis). This truss, like the others before it, was attached to the Destiny Laboratory module. The crew also attached the Mobile Transporter, a device that allows the Canadarm2 to move about the truss system.
ISS Assembly Mission 9A in the space

ISS Assembly Mission 9A

In October 2002, another Space Shuttle Atlantis mission delivered the S1 truss (yes, there are a lot of trusses). These trusses are largely used to hold solar panels to keep the station running. Obviously, it’s quite hard to keep all of these trusses working, which is why so much equipment is also delivered to aid astronauts in their spacewalks to fix and modify them. The S1 truss was attached to the S0 truss.
ISS Assembly Mission 12A in the space

ISS Assembly Mission 12A

Jumping ahead a bit (skipping a few truss deliveries) to September 2006, the STS-115 crew delivered and attached a second port truss segment and the solar arrays they need to harness the power of the Sun.
ISS Assembly Mission 13A in the space

ISS Assembly Mission 13A

In June 2007, two more truss segments (S3 and S4) to the station. Around this time is when the station fully comes into focus as to what it is today with trusses supporting solar arrays at both sides of the center modules where the astronauts live and perform their experiments.
ISS Assembly Mission 10A in the space

ISS Assembly Mission 10A

For whatever reason, ISS Assembly Mission 10A came after Mission 13A on October 23, 2007 when the Harmony Node 2 was added to the Destiny Laboratory. This node provides the attachment points for the Japanese Kibo laboratory and the European Columbus laboratory, which are both forthcoming at this point.
ISS Assembly Mission ULF2 in orbit above the Earth

ISS Assembly Mission ULF2

On November 14, 2008, the Space Shuttle Endeavour crew delivered the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, which contained a larger crew quarters, exercise equipment and life support systems. The image shows the station in all its glory (remember when it was just the Zarya Module? How they grow up fast).
ISS Assembly Mission 19A in orbit

ISS Assembly Mission 19A

A few nodes and trusses later, we arrive at Mission 19A and the delivery of the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module by the Space Shuttle Discovery. This is largely what the station still looks like today, though new modules, such as the inflatable one, were just added. It will be interesting to the see how the station changes in the future, especially since no one knows how long the US and Russia will work together on the same station.