Humans have imagined living in space for as long as they have looked up at the stars. Sixteen years ago today, on November 20, 1998, the United States and its partners in Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada launched the first piece of the International Space Station (ISS) into orbit and brought that dream closer to reality.

More pieces were added, and in 2000 the station was ready for people. Astronauts have continuously lived, worked and conducted research aboard the ISS since then. At roughly 50 meters long and more than 450,000 kilograms, the station is larger than a six-bedroom house and accommodates six occupants.

Europe at night from the International Space Station (ESA/NASA)

International cooperation is one of the ISS’s major legacies. At least 70 countries have pursued research on the ISS. Concrete benefits to date include:

  • Neurosurgical medical technology in Canada.
  • Water purification technology in rural Mexico.
  • Agricultural monitoring in the United States.
  • Remote telemedicine in rural Brazil.

The ISS is just one example of international cooperation on space research. The Hubble telescope was built and is operated in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). NASA played an important role in ESA’s Rosetta mission, which recently landed a spacecraft on a comet. Earlier this year, NASA and its Indian counterpart announced plans to explore Mars together.

“Here at home, we cooperate closely with not only other U.S. government agencies, but across the globe,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in an interview with “Let there be no confusion, international collaboration is critical to America and NASA.”

See the International Space Station for yourself. NASA’s Spot The Station will give you a list of upcoming space station sighting opportunities for your location.