I have noticed that interior of the ISS appears to be very disorganized.

Let me clarify what I mean by that. I grew up watching Star Trek, and the Enterprise was the reference of clean space-faring vehicle. Things were in drawers, hidden. Or structured in a clean way. Computers were built into larger panels. There were touch screens. Have you noticed they always needed to uncover a panel to access some occasionally accessed system? It was minimalistic design.

When I look at the ISS, everything is everywhere, and it seems like nothing is attached firmly to the main frame. Things are just loosely attached to the wall and there are so many cables, devices, objects, ... that one wonders

  • how do they not cut themselves all day with some sharp edge
  • how do they not break or make a cable loose
  • how come those objects, machines, devices did not break already by bumping into each other a long time ago

given there is no stabilizing force in a form of gravity.

Another aspect is psychological. How can those astronauts feel comfortable and focus on the job, when there is constant visual noise in their peripheral area?

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    $\begingroup$ Things were in drawers, hidden. Or structured in a clean way. Well, there was also gravity on Star Trek, and only microgravity on the ISS, as geoffc alludes to. And it's set a few hundred years in the future. So technology is just a tad ahead of us. That part of the question seems poor. But I think that it's a good idea at heart; it's a question I used to think about years ago. I'm neutral on this. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Mar 2, 2015 at 2:56
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    $\begingroup$ You could as well ask why my desk is a complete mess. In fact, however it might appear to the casual observer, it's not to me. It's an organized random-access heap: things I'm currently using (or have recently used and likely will use again in the near future) are where I can get them easily. I also don't have to deal with military officers who prize appearances above function, as with Star Trek. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Mar 2, 2015 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ "How can those astronauts feel comfortable and focus on the job, when there is constant visual noise in their peripheral area?" This is only a factor for some people. Many, myself included, have no issue whatsoever with a messy workspace $\endgroup$ Mar 6, 2015 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ Note that it's a whole lot of work to make a cluttered set; part of Star Trek being clean and streamlined was their building only what they had to to make it look real. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2015 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ ..it's too expensive to send janitors? $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2016 at 1:06

2 Answers 2


In Star Trek there is artificial gravity, and lots of staff. On the ISS there is neither. The crew spends a lot of time maintaining the station. They barely get time for science operations, with all the time they spend on maintenance. Going to a crew of 7, which Commercial Crew vehicles will enable (bringing 4 at a time, acting as a lifeboat for 4, instead of Soyuz with only capacity for 3), is expected to greatly increase available time for science. Just by adding one more body, on top of all the time the current staff of 6, will more than double available science time.

There is not a lot of storage space in the station, all things considered, and when cargo comes up on a vehicle, it comes in bulk, all at once. They track where everything is, else it gets lost in the scrum. The Dragon and Cygnus vehicles are mostly volume limited, but the ATV and HTV bring up a fairly larger amount all at once. It all has to go somewhere, and you need to keep track of where everything is.

There was a great video of Sunnita Williams hunting for something. She looked up the location on the computer, went to the specified location, opened a cabinet, and pulled out three layers deep of boxes. The item she wanted was in the box at the back.

Thus there is a great deal of order, hiding behind the seeming disorder. Looks can be deceiving.

The inner storage areas of the station are really well organized. The visible surfaces definitely look like a hodge-podge, but they are taking advantage of available surface area to store things they use a lot.

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    $\begingroup$ There's also a desk at the control center in Hunstville who's responsible for helping locate things in the station. Payload Rack Officer $\endgroup$
    – asawyer
    Mar 2, 2015 at 17:06
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    $\begingroup$ From what I understand, it works somewhat like an Amazon.com warehouse: If you have a computer system that tracks every item on the station, order is superfluous. In a household for example, you would keep all your tissue papers in one spot, but it makes more sense to keep them scattered around the station, so you never have to go far to retrieve one. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2015 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @asawyer I think you meant to link to “POIC Stowage”? Rack Officer seems to be in charge of experiment modules. $\endgroup$
    – Wolfgang
    Mar 28, 2023 at 4:11
  • $\begingroup$ @asawyer POIC Stowage (Huntsville) and ISO (Inventory Stowage Officer - Houston) are the flight control positions for stowage. PROs command to EXPRESS racks and control power, cooling, and vacuum resources. $\endgroup$
    – Doresoom
    Sep 22, 2023 at 17:18

At 4,000 to 14,000 dollar per kg in launch costs, pretty panels are a huge waste of money. It needs to be fixed solidly enough to withstand a crewmember bumping into it, and easily detachable enough to be replaced when needed. Beyond that, the crewmembers are professionals who watch where they're going and don't need a kiddieproofed environment.


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