Book Review: Reference Guide to the International Space Station

Category: Non-Fiction
Reviewed by: Jim Plaxco
Title: Reference Guide to the International Space Station
Author: Gary Kitmacher
NSS Amazon link for this book
Format: Paperback
Pages: 140
Publisher: CreateSpace
Date: November, 2006
Retail Price: $21.95
ISBN: 1894959345

Complete online copy of this book

Given the scope and complexity of the International Space Station, the creation of a 104-page reference guide is itself a challenge. But that is exactly the task attempted in the Reference Guide to the International Space Station edited by Gary Kitmacher.  This book was originally produced by NASA and released as NASA publication SP-2006-557.

The book’s back cover states that the book “is designed to provide a broad overview of the International Space Station‘s complex configuration, design, and component systems. As well, the sophisticated procedures required in the Station’s construction and operation are presented.” This review will judge the book on this basis.

The book is organized into the following chapters:

  • Assembly Stages
  • Elements
  • Transportation/Logistics
  • Systems
  • ISS International Facilities and Operations
  • Missions
  • Interesting Facts
  • Appendix
  • Contacts

The book’s first chapter, “Assembly Stages,” is a graphic section that identifies the modules, supporting components, their sequence in the assembly of ISS, and their location within the overall structure. Each step in the assembly sequence is illustrated using a computer drawing and a photo for those structures already on orbit. The computer drawings are those previously on the NASA ISS web site. While I could not locate these original illustrations, the illustrations for future assembly missions can be found at

The Elements chapter provides a very brief one-page overview of each module and its functionality. Elements for which these one-page descriptions are provided are:

  • Functional Cargo Block (FGB) Zarya
  • Service Module (SM) Zvezda
  • Pressurized Mating Adapters (PMAs)
  • Node 1 (Unity), Node 2, Node 3
  • US Laboratory Module Destiny
  • European Space Agency Columbus Research Laboratory
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Japanese Experiment Module Kibo
  • Cupola
  • Canadian Space Agency Mobile Servicing System (MSS)

For each of these components, basic size and mass measurements and a short description of the component’s function is provided. Also included are one-page descriptions of the Internal Research Accommodations, consisting of the Standard Payload Racks, the Active Rack Isolation System, and External Research Accommodations, which are locations on the exterior of ISS where experiments requiring exposure to the space environment can be mounted.

The chapter “Transportation and Logistics” provides a one-page overview of the various launch vehicles that have been and will be used to support the ISS program. This includes the Russian Soyuz and Proton launch vehicles, Japan’s H-II, Europe’s Ariane V, and the U.S.’s space shuttle. Additional one-page descriptions are provided for the:

  • Russian Soyuz manned spacecraft
  • Russian Progress module – used for resupply and reboost
  • U.S. Space Shuttle
  • Italian Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), a reusable supply and equipment transfer module
  • Japan’s JAXA H-11 Transfer Vehicle
  • ESA Automated Transfer Vehicle

The chapter on Systems consists primarily of a sequence of module outlines that illustrates the location of various system elements in each module. The system components so identified fall within the categories:

  • Habitation
  • Crew Health Care System
  • ECLSS  [Environmental Control and Life Support System]
  • Computer and Data Management
  • Propulsion

Unfortunately most of the associated photos used to show these components and sections of the modules are the size of postage stamps and little, if any, detail is discernible.

Extravehicular Activity (EVA) is critical to the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station,  and a very brief overview of this aspect of station operations is provided. In terms of station ingress and egress, an overview of the Quest  airlock,  the Russian Docking Compartment, and Pirs airlock is provided along with the associated spacesuits. When using the U.S. Quest  airlock to exit and reenter the station, the astronauts wear the U.S.’s extravehicular mobility unit. When using the Russian Pirs airlock, astronauts use the Russian Orlan spacesuit.

The Systems chapter closes with an overview of ISS communications, the guidance, navigation, and control system, the electrical power systems, and the thermal control system. Note that the text for the thermal control system section is included as an Errata Notice page insert.

The “ISS International Facilities and Operations” chapter provides a very brief overview of the various space agencies involved in the ISS project. The information presented is very basic and deals mostly with the various space centers involved in the ISS project.

The “Missions” chapter is essentially a table listing the shuttle, Soyuz, and Progress flights to ISS by mission name, date, and crews.

The most entertaining chapter of the book is “Interesting Facts,” which could best be described as space station trivia. For example:

  • ISS systems recycle on average 6.4 kilograms of crew-expelled air each day.
  • There are 1.5 million lines of flight software running on 44 computers in the U.S. segment of the space station.
  • Crews have eaten about 23,000 meals and 20,000 snacks totalling over 18,000 kilograms by weight.

The book’s Appendix consists of an acronym list, a must for the acronym-rich ISS program, and an all too-short list of definitions that is sorely lacking in depth.

The chapter identified as “Contacts” in the book’s table of contents is just a list of the space agencies involved in the ISS program. In  my opinion, it does not deserve chapter status.

With respect to the book’s stated goal of providing a broad overview of the International Space Station, I believe that this book achieves its stated purpose. It provides a high level overview of the incredibly complex International Space Station program without drowning the reader in an ocean of facts. While I would not recommend this book to a serious student seeking in-depth knowledge of the ISS program and systems, it does do a good job of providing a quick overview of this program. The organization of the book is straightforward. While the book does lack an index, the book’s style of presentation makes such an index unnecessary.

My primary disappointment with the book was the small size of many of the photographs. While being profusely illustrated, many of the images are quite small. For older eyes, some of the text may be difficult to read, especially some which is overlaid on background imagery.

In closing, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to quickly acquire a good, high level understanding of the International Space Station program.

© 2007 Jim Plaxco

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