Why Isn't the ISS Falling Out Of it's Orbit?

I have always wondered how the International Space Station (ISS) stays in orbit and does not come crashing down from space. The ISS provides a home for astronauts that are exploring and researching the depths of space. This Zero-G home away from home has everything an astronaut will need to stay in space for an extended period of time; not to mention the frequent resupply rockets that are sent to the ISS to fuel, replenish, and feed the station.

The reason why the International Space Station does not fall out of orbit is due to Earth's gravity and the ISS' velocity. Think about it like a cannonball. When a cannonball is fired, it moves in a parabolic fashion. Similarly, the ISS is being fired by the propellers that fuel it. The International Space Station moves at roughly 8 kilometers per second, or 27,600 km per hour. Since the space station is moving so fast, it is constantly being "fired" like a projectile. Due to this, it continues to move in a parabolic fashion around Earth.

The downward acceleration of Earth's gravity is 9.81 meters per second squared. When calculating the path of a projectile on Earth, we take gravity into account. Similarly, scientists have calculated the speed in order to keep the ISS moving constantly in orbit around Earth.

Notice how the ISS moves in a diagonal fashion in relation to the "Day side" and "Night Side". This is so the astronauts can feel the sunlight and the night so that there is a somewhat normal experience. If the ISS were to orbit on the Terminator, the cycle between night and day would be incredibly odd.

The importance of the International Space Station is undeniable, but what is most important is the calculations and the physics that were behind the success of the ISS. Understanding how the ISS moves opens up a whole new perspective to the way a celestial or mechanical body moves throughout space.

-Bailley G

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