By Robert Frost I feel like a parent that was just told their child is ugly. As an engineer, I look at the ISS and think "of course it looks that way, why would it look different?" Where a fictional spacecraft has the luxury of having its design dictated by style, real spacecraft are constrained by budget, tradeoffs, and practicality. Every feature of the ISS can be explained by those words. We don't yet have the technology to do construction in space, so we have to assemble a large vehicle in space from launch-able components. At the time of the ISS assembly, the two mechanisms for getting a large payload to space were the Space Shuttle Orbiter and the Russian Proton rocket. Those two sentences explain a lot of the ISS appearance. It had to be assembled from pieces that would fit in the Orbiter payload bay or the payload fairing of a Proton rocket. This dictates a maximum length and diameter for each component. We can therefore expect ISS to be composed largely of cylinders, linked together like sausages. More details via Gizmodo
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