Our home in spaceStaff writer ▼ |
The second decade of a new era in human history when not everyone lives on our home planet begins November 2 as the International Space Station crosses the 2.4 billion kilometers mark of its travels with six residents on board and six visitors en route. On October 25, the station will also set a record for being the longest continuously inhabited spacecraft. On that day, the International Space Station eclipsed the previous record of 3,644 days set by the Russian Mir Space Station.
Ten years ago, Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev launched into history as the first crew to live on the International Space Station. They blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 31, 2000, and docked with the station two days later. From the moment the hatch of their Soyuz spacecraft opened and they entered the fledgling space station, there have been people living and working in orbit, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The station is a venture of international cooperation among NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and 11 members of the European Space Agency: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. More than 100,000 people in space agencies and contractor facilities in 37 U.S. states and throughout the world are involved in this endeavour.
While people on Earth have come together to build and operate the complex, the resident crews from around the world have also come together in space. May 2009 saw the station become home to its first six-person crew which also marked the first time at least one crew member from each of the supporting space agencies was aboard at the same time. The International Space Station boasts 29 research facilities, providing an example of cooperation by humans and robots that is expected to become a mainstay of space exploration throughout our solar system.
The station is the state of the art laboratory complex that continues to expand the boundaries of space research. Its life-support systems are taking recycling into uncharted territory as residents drink much of the same water and breathe much of the same air over and over. The unique capabilities of its systems and laboratories will lead to discoveries that will benefit missions farther into outer space. These discoveries will also benefit people all over the world, now and in the future. ■