Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Record Of Accomplishment Living In Space.

Those who wish humans were spreading through the heliosphere faster than we are have lamented NASA's drive into the cul de sac of lower Earth orbit since the demise of Apollo. Billions and billions of dollars have been spent on flying the outdated Space Shuttle to what many believe is a boondoggle in the sky, the International Space Station. Yet the following tidbit of fact from a newsletter out of MIT suggests that the ISS may not have been a complete waste.
"Humans have now been living in space continuously for 5 years! On November 2nd, 2000, Bill Shepherd, Sergei Krikalev, and Yuri Gidzenko took up residence in the International Space Station – and ever since that first expedition, the station has been constantly inhabited. In total, 12 crews have lived and worked in the ISS over the course of the past 5 years, and the station has hosted 97 visitors from 10 countries. Reflecting on this anniversary, Shepherd expressed the hope that knowledge gained onboard will lead to human exploration far beyond low Earth orbit."
(MIT's Mars Gravity Biosatellite Program website here.)

If humans are going to successfully spread into the universe and make a home of it, we are going to need practice living and working in space. For all of the space station's faults, the ISS has provided a home for humans in space. Not the first, there were the Salyuts, Skylab and Mir before the ISS. In fact, humans have lived in lower Earth orbit nearly continuously since 1986 thanks to the Russians.

The Soviet Union launched Mir in March of 1986, and from then until 1999 it was always occupied except for two brief periods: 7 months from July 1986 to February 1987, and May 1989 until September 1989. From September 1989 until August 1999 it was always occupied. Mir's final residents lived there from briefly from April to June 2000. Four months later, the ISS opened its doors to its first residents.

If we count Mir, since March 1986 humans have lived in lower Earth orbit for 212 out of 235 months. That's a mere 23 months in which humans have not lived in space in the past 19 years. That's a pretty good record of accomplishment. Thanks, Ivan! (See this site, here, for more on the history of Russia's accomplishments in space.)



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