From a comment on another question:

The international agreements leading to the ISS are quite complicated. Leaving Russia aside, each of the international partners brought significant assets to the group - Japan, a cluster of lab modules + resupply missions, ESA, a large lab module + resupply missions, Canada, the ISS robotics system. In the 80s when all this was being hammered out, was India a player in human space flight?

This piqued my curiosity, and putting aside my inherent bias, I would like a factual answer of what the Soviet Union and Russia brought to the ISS and the ISS project.

It would also be great if your answer were to also clearly delineate between the USSR and RF.

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    $\begingroup$ youtube.com/watch?v=Y7tvauOJMHo :-) $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    May 29, 2018 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ If your question was intended as sarcasm, note that NASA is still and will continue to use Russian rocket engines RD-180 . $\endgroup$
    – Overmind
    May 29, 2018 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ "What did… Russia bring to the ISS?" Americans. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    May 29, 2018 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ Formally speaking, the Soviet Union has brought nothing. The Union has been dissolved in 1991. Even the very first Shuttle-Mir (so called "phase one", where "phase two" would be the construction of the ISS) agreement was signed by B.Yeltsin (as the president of Russian Federation already) and G.Bush in 1992. $\endgroup$
    – user54
    May 30, 2018 at 10:54
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    $\begingroup$ @horsh Without the "Communist" (well, Leninist) rapid industrialisation of Russia and Russian spacefaring experience, the Yeltsin kleptocracy of a government could not have contributed anything. The ISS itself is the culmination of decades of US-USSR cooperation beginning with Apollo-Soyuz. So even if Yeltsin had pulled out of any planned Russian involvement, the USSR had already committed years of formal and practical cooperation without which the ISS would not be possible. $\endgroup$
    – user234461
    Jun 1, 2018 at 13:05

5 Answers 5


The previous answer lists hardware components supplied by the Russians to the ISS. I would like to add the experience and knowledge that Russia brought to the project. The USA's experience was limited to Skylab space stations, with only 3 expeditions, consisting of a single module.

Russians have experience in:

  • Life support systems, which work for many years
  • Emergency systems (fire, collisions, meteorites), which are in service for years and emergency situations handling
  • Logistics of station supply by cargo ships
  • etc.
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    $\begingroup$ Also, maintenance and repair. Some of that comes from tech problems, but before Salyut and Mir, maintaining and repairing satellites wasn't really a thing. Plus, physiological effects of weightless living for a year, and exercise regimes t mitigate that. $\endgroup$ May 31, 2018 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ The US did an impressive EVA repair on Skylab. $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2018 at 12:32

Initially, everything. The ISS started out as Mir-2 with some extra modules added soon afterwards. Then lots more over the next 10 years.

The initial modules, Zarya and Zvezda, which housed living quarters, reboost, attitude control, solar power, life support, and docking modules.

Each additional component and module made the system better, but the ISS is still dependent on the Russian operating segment.

Each function that the Russian segment supplied initially was enhanced or replaced by the US side (solar power, life support, etc.). The major component this is mostly still Russian is half the crew quarters and reboost/attitude control (beyond what the control gyros can handle).

Initially the Shuttle and Soyuz provided crew services, and now only Soyuz (till SpaceX/ULA get their acts together in 2019) provides crew. Initially the Russians provided cargo (as did the Shuttle till retirement), but specifically Progress could refuel the engines on the ISS for reboost.

The Russian theoretical plan is that the next two modules they launch (if ever, now, after being so delayed) Nauka and the UM will be able to separate from the ISS and form the core of their next space station. One of those theories was to take Zarya and Zvezda (or just one) with them as well.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, they're the only suppliers of manned missions to the ISS at the moment, and Soyuz are used as life boats. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    May 29, 2018 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ IIRC while the "western" segment does provide some life-support capabilities, it's not enough to sustain it and depends on Zarya in that respect. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    May 29, 2018 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ I believe it is Boeing that is working on commercial crew capacity, not ULA. $\endgroup$
    – Skyler
    May 30, 2018 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ ULA is a joint operation between Boeing and LM. So yes, you are probably correct. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    May 30, 2018 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ ULA is a subcontractor to Boeing on that project, they provide the Atlas launch vehicle. Yes, it's bizarre. $\endgroup$ May 30, 2018 at 23:04

In addition to the other answers, the docking system mounted on the Shuttle Orbiter itself was also supplied by the Russians. This system was used to dock with both ISS and Mir.

Here's a picture I took on Endeavour's aft flight deck showing the docking system control panel, also supplied by the Russians. It looks completely different from any other Orbiter control panels.

enter image description here

This picture shows the corner of the docking system control panel for comparison with standard Orbiter panels. You'll see that another international partner's panel had the same "look and feel" as the US panels!

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ Good points! CBM is US, PMA's with IDA is US, but based on a Russian standard, really. Or maybe on US-Soviet from ASTP days in the 70's). ATV uses the Russian ports. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    May 29, 2018 at 16:06

Also let's not forget Mir-Shuttle program https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle%E2%80%93Mir_Program

The program was a rehearsal for the future ISS operations. It gained NASA the experience in many activities (shuttle docking with space station, resupply of the station, long duration human spaceflight).


In addition to the practical contributions, there's a political one. After the fall of the Soviet Union, NASA started to cooperate with the Russian space agency to help keep it in business. By keeping rocket scientists employed, it was hoped the risk of proliferation of missile technology would be reduced.

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    $\begingroup$ How does this try to answer the question "What did the Soviet Union and Russia bring to the ISS?"? $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Jun 3, 2018 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ It is a partial answer to "why was Russia invited to be part of the ISS?". $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Jun 3, 2018 at 18:45

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