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How to take a virtual tour of the International Space Station

SpaceX’s first crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) last week has sparked renewed interest in the orbiting laboratory.

Hosting a steady stream of astronauts from around the world since 2000, the space station orbits Earth once every 90 minutes at a speed of 17,500 mph, all the while maintaining a steady altitude of around 250 miles.

The space-based outpost allows scientists to conduct a wide range of experiments — more than 2,500 to date — in microgravity conditions, with the results benefitting not only future space exploration, but also life on Earth. The latest space station arrivals — Crew Dragon astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — will already be carrying out a range of work activities aboard the satellite.

While many parts of the ISS may appear cramped in photos and videos beamed back to Earth, the space station is actually huge, spreading out in all directions. Measured from the edges of its solar arrays, the ISS would cover the area of a football field — including the end zones. According to NASA, the ISS has “the volume of a five-bedroom house or two Boeing 747 jetliners,” and can comfortably support a crew of up to six people. If weighed on Earth, it would tip the scales at about 1 million pounds, around the same weight as a fully loaded A380 aircraft, the largest passenger plane in the world.

Unless you’re planning to become an astronaut sometime soon, the easiest way to explore the space station is via a virtual tour courtesy of Google Arts & Culture, which for a while has offered a Street View-style trip around the satellite. Simply click here to transport yourself there, and then tap or click the on-screen arrows to move through the ISS, just as you do with the regular Street View.

For a more detailed tour that offers explanatory notes, try this Google Earth experience that lets you select specific parts of the space station to visit and learn about.

Or, if you’d like to just sit back and go on a cinematic ride of the ISS without any personal input, check out this gorgeously produced video for a completely different kind of experience.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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