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TRENDING SCIENCE: Home sweet home: living aboard the space station for 20 years

In early November 2000, the first humans began calling the International Space Station (ISS) their home in space.

Fundamental Research

On 2 November 2000, NASA astronaut William Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev entered the ISS about 420 km above Earth after launching 2 days earlier. They became the first of many space station crews to live in the orbiting laboratory. “It was very foggy,” Shepherd told ‘The New York Times’. “It was a day that NASA would not have launched to space.” He added: “Our main job that first day was to assemble a cable, a camera, lights and some other components to do a live television downlink.”

The ups and downs of home in orbit

Things didn’t go as planned, with the three of them moving around “with our hair on fire for about three hours trying to get this set up, because none of the components were in places where we expected to find them.” The task eventually worked out. In the beginning, the crew would get conflicting instructions from Houston and Moscow. Shepherd had had enough. “We’re not doing that. We are the International Space Station. We’re not doing a program for Houston and another one for Moscow. And we’re not going to work a plan until you get one plan for one station. So you guys get your act together.” That “was my happiest day in space,” he admitted. The first decade or so was dedicated to assembling and building the ISS. Attention then turned to science. The ISS has hosted 241 residents from 19 countries and carried out 227 spacewalks for building and maintenance.

Space lab provides discoveries and historic breakthroughs

Researchers from 108 countries and territories have conducted over 3 000 scientific investigations on the space station. From researching diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to supporting disaster response activities, NASA presents 20 scientific and technological breakthroughs it has achieved to improve our lives on Earth thanks to the ISS. “I think people maybe have not experienced or don’t remember what a technical and programmatic and possibly just diplomatic challenge the space station really was,” explained Shepherd in a podcast about the historic mission that started the uninterrupted human presence on the ISS. “And the fact that we’re able to do it, I don’t think the space station’s had a major technical casualty that I’m aware of, since we launched. We’ve had, what, 63 Expeditions on there that have all been very successful.” NASA has certified the ISS through 2024 and its hardware through 2028. This suits NASA’s plans to also focus on exploration and return humans to the moon by 2024 through its Artemis programme and its future human mission to Mars. The question of travelling to Mars or other locations in the solar system invariably came up during the podcast. “[I]f you look at International Space Station, it’s really a blueprint for how to do this,” Shepherd noted.


International Space Station, space station, NASA, William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko, Sergei Krikalev