How closely can ground control monitor astronauts aboard the ISS. Are there cameras or microphones that the ground can use to see and hear what's happening, or are they reliant on the crew to relay what is going on in terms of astronaut activity and movement?

If an astronaut wanted to do something like a practical joke on ground control and they needed to talk and hide their movements, would they be able to do that unnoticed?

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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh Thanks, any answers to your edit will answer the aspects of the initial question that interested me $\endgroup$
    – lijat
    Oct 26, 2018 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ It's a good question, I've wondered about this as well. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 26, 2018 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cameras_on_ISS - I don't know if this includes security cameras, or if there even are internally monitored security cameras. Watching tours of the ISS I don't see anything like an "IP Camera" system that a traditional stop-n-go would use. Security cameras were popular as early as 1987 though, CCTV was using facial/licence plate recognition by 1997, the ISS was launched in 1998. I would expect there to be something akin to a 7-11's security cameras. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2018 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ It's going to be hard to prove a negative, but there are no internal cameras or microphones that the crew does not have control of. The ground has total control of the external cameras. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2018 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ The question of "can" may need to be specified if you mean technical ability or process ability. I suspect that normal procedures are to request permission before activating interior cameras ("can we come aboard?"), but that it could be done without permission if necessary. $\endgroup$
    – BowlOfRed
    Oct 26, 2018 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


Note: This answer applies to the US side of the ISS

The ISS internal video cameras are simply Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) camcorders. They interface with the video distribution system by plugging into Internal Camcorder Ports located throughout the pressurized modules. These ports communicate with Common Video Interface Units (CVIUs) which in turn communicate with Video Switching Units (VSUs). Camera ports. The ISS has camera ports (part of the structures and mechanisms system), both internal and external, for connecting cameras to the ISS. The internal camera ports are for handheld commercial camcorders. The external camera ports (14 in all) are for the ETVCG's.

(emphasis mine)

enter image description here

International Space Station Evolution Data Book (NASA/SP-2000-6109/VOL1/REV1)

The ground has control of the CVIUs and VSUs, but no control over the COTS camcorders. If the crew does not want video to be taken, there is nothing the ground can do about it other than ask nicely.

enter image description here

Photo Credit: NASA

  • $\begingroup$ Of course, if the ground ask nicely and the crew disobey, their chances of ever getting into space again drop to zero. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Jul 7, 2021 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Innovine Clay Anderson (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clayton_Anderson) had a big fight with MCC while on the ISS, got put on non-flight status, and managed to get back into their good graces and fly again. Fascinating description in his very frank memoir The Ordinary Spaceman nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9780803262829 $\endgroup$ Jul 7, 2021 at 21:31

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