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Home / Science / The space station marks 20 years of human life in orbit

The space station marks 20 years of human life in orbit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – The International Space Station is a cramped, damp, three-room dingy room when the first crew moves in. Twenty years and 241 visitors later, the complex features an observation tower, three bathrooms, six sleeping compartments, and 12 rooms, depending on how you count.

Monday marks two decades of a steady stream of people living there.

Astronauts from 19 countries have flown through the hatches of the space station, including many repeat tourists arriving on shuttle for short-term construction jobs and some tourists paying their own way. surname.

The first crew ̵

1; American Bill Shepherd and Russian Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko – departed Kazakhstan on October 31, 2000. Two days later, they opened the door of the space station, holding hands.

Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL that used to be a station commander, likens it to living on a ship at sea. All three spend most of their time getting the device to work; Wet system makes this place too warm. Conditions are primitive, compared to now.

Krikalev recalls that installation and repairs take hours on the ground.

“Every day seems to have its own set of challenges,” Shepherd said in a recent NASA board discussion with his crew members.

Video thumbnails on Youtube

The space station has since turned into a complex that is almost as long as a football field, with eight miles (13 kilometers) of wires, an acre of solar panels and three high-tech laboratories.

“That’s 500 tons of objects magnified in space, most of which never touch each other until it gets up there and starts to function,” Shepherd told The Associated Press. . “And it all ran for 20 years with hardly any major problems.”

“It is a real testament to what can be done in these types of programs,” he said.

Shepherd, 71, has long retired from NASA and lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Krikalev, 62, and Gidzenko, 58, have risen in the Russian space. Both took part in the mid-October launch of the 64 crew.

The first thing the three did when they arrived at the dark space station on November 2, 2000, was to turn on the lights, which Krikalev recalled was “very memorable”. They then boil water for hot drinks and activate the lone toilet.

“Now we can live,” recalled Gidzenko of Shepherd’s quote. “We have lights, we have hot water and we have toilets.”

The crew calls their new home Alpha, but the name doesn’t stick.

Despite pioneering the path, all three have had no intimate calls during the nearly five months there, Shepherd said, and so far the station has performed relatively well.

NASA’s primary concern today is the growing threat from space junk. This year, the orbital lab had to dodge debris three times.

As for the station’s amenities, astronauts now have nearly constant communication with flight controllers and even internet telephones for personal use. The first crew member had sporadic radio communications with the ground; Contact power outages can last for hours.

While the three astronauts get along, sometimes tensions flare up between them and the two Mission Control Agencies, in Houston and the outskirts of Moscow. Shepherd was so upset with “contradictory operations orders” that he insisted they come up with a single plan.

“I must say, it was my happiest day in space,” he said during the discussion.

With the first piece launched in 1998, the International Space Station is already 22 years in orbit. NASA and its partners contend that it easily has many years left right 260 miles (400 kilometers) up.

The Mir Station – home to Krikalev and Gidzenko in the late 1980s and 1990s – operated for 15 years before being guided to a fiery rebellion over the Pacific in 2001. Previous Russian and Skylab stations America’s 1970s have a much shorter lifespan, as do China’s. Orbital outpost more recently.

These days, astronauts spend most of their six months keeping the space station up and running and doing scientific experiments. Some even spent almost a year on a single flight, serving as healing guinea pigs. In contrast, Shepherd and his crew barely had time for a handful of experiments.

The first few weeks were so busy – “just work and work and work,” according to Gidzenko – that they didn’t shave for days. It took a while to find the razor.

Even back then, the crew’s favorite pastime was looking down at Earth. It takes only 90 minutes for the station to cycle around the world, allowing astronauts to immerse themselves in 16 astonishing sunrises and 16 sunsets each day.

The current residents – one American and two Russians, like the original crew – plan to celebrate Monday’s milestone by sharing a special dinner, enjoying a view of the Earth and Tribute to all the crew that came before them, especially the first ones.

But it won’t be a day off: “Maybe we will celebrate this day by working hard,” Sergei Kud-Sverchkov said Friday from orbit.

According to Shepherd, one of the best results of 20 years of continuous space life is the diversity of astronauts.

While the men still led the group, many crew members included women. Two US women served as captain of the space station. The commanders are usually Americans or Russians, but may also come from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. While African-Americans have made short visits to the space station, the first Black residents will arrive in mid-November on the second SpaceX space flight.

Shepherd says that big commitments like human travels to Mars could benefit from the experience and international cooperation of the past two decades.

“If you look at today’s space station program, that is the blueprint of how to do it. All the questions about how this should be organized and how it will look, the big questions have been behind us, ”he told the AP.

Russia, for example, kept station crews to and from NASA’s Columbia disaster in 2003 and after the shuttles ceased operations in 2011.

When Shepherd and his teammates returned to Earth aboard the Discovery shuttle after nearly five months, his primary goal was accomplished.

“Our crew has shown that we can work together,” he said.


The Associated Press Department of Science and Health receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Division. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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