Imagine waking up in the morning, looking out your window and seeing this view. Breathtaking, isn't it? What would it be like to live in space? Is it only science fiction, or will it be a real possibility in the near future?

Photo courtesy NASA
View of the Florida peninsula from space.

For years, and for various reasons, people (scientists, astronauts, science fiction writers, the general public) have dreamed of having a permanent space station in orbit around Earth. For some, space stations are a place to do cutting edge scientific research in an environment that can not be matched on Earth. For others, space stations are a place for business, where unique materials (crystals, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals) can be manufactured in better forms than on Earth. Still others dream of space stations as staging points for expeditions to the planets and stars, as tourist attractions, or even as new cities and colonies that could relieve an overpopulated planet. Whatever the dream, space stations are not that far off. The United States and Russia have had orbiting space stations since 1971 and are now cooperating with other nations to build the International Space Station, a place that will maintain a permanent human presence in space.

Photo courtesy NASA
Artist's concept of the completed International Space Station.

What will the space station look like? What will it be like to live and work in space? What problems are involved in establishing a space station? What will it be used for? In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we will examine the fascinating world of space stations.