Ten years ago today, the first part of the International Space Station (ISS), call sign Alpha, was launched atop a Russian rocket.

When Zarya, the first module, was launched from Kazakhstan it about the size of a bus, now Alpha is the largest spacecraft ever built and can be seen from Earth. It has components built by space agencies around the world: Russia, USA, Europe, Canada, Japan. It is jointly controlled by ground control teams in Russia and USA, and when the EU’s freight module is attached, a third control room, here in Europe, also becomes active. This is a real piece of international co-operation.

The components that make up Alpha at this stage are:

Zarya, the original module

Unity Node 1, connecting various parts of Alpha together

Harmony Node 2, a second connector module allowing various other parts to be attached to Alpha

Zvezda, a service module forming part of the living area

Destiny, the US science lab

Columbus, the European science lab

Kibo, the Japanese science lab

Quest, the airlock giving access to the outside of Alpha

Pirs, a docking module and airlock

Integrated Truss Structure, the backbone of the space station,

Mobile Servicing Structure, includes the Canadarm2 and Dextre, essential maintenance equipment used for moving around anything and everything outside of Alpha

It is expected that Alpha will be complete by the end of 2011 when the Space Shuttle is finally retired from service.

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