Monday, November 2 marked 20 years of continuous human habitation in space, aboard the International Space Station.
It was on this day in 2000 that Expedition 1 crew members — NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd, and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev — arrived at the space station for a stay that lasted about four-and-a-half months (136 days, to be precise).
Since then, the ISS, which orbits Earth at an altitude of around 250 miles, has hosted more than 240 people from 19 countries. Visitors work, rest, and play aboard the station, which is described by NASA as having the volume of a five-bedroom house.
The orbiting outpost is packed with masses of scientific equipment used for ongoing experiments and research in the unique, microgravity conditions.
“During the past two decades, the space station has supported numerous discoveries, scientific publications, unique opportunities, and historic breakthroughs,” NASA said. “This research not only helps us explore farther into space, it also benefits us back on Earth.
There are currently three crew members aboard the space station: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.
So, what did they do to celebrate 20 years of continuous human habitation on the space station? Well, according to Rubins, it was a low-key affair.
Asked by a reporter during a space-based media event just ahead of the anniversary, the American astronaut said they would have “a simple dinner celebration,” adding, “I think the most fitting tribute is for the three of us to just go take a nice long view out the Cupola, look at the beautiful Earth, and appreciate this amazing space station.”
A celebratory dinner as a crew and "take a nice long view out of the cupola" to commemorate the #SpaceStation20th. A fitting tribute by the @Space_Station Expedition 64 crew of Kate Rubins, Sergey Ryzhikov, and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. pic.twitter.com/4JgrHurGpM
— Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) November 2, 2020
The Cupola observatory module, which was fitted to the ISS in 2010, comprises seven windows and offers the best views of Earth and space from the station. It’s the place from which many astronauts capture so many amazing photographs of our planet from several hundred miles up, with images covering everything from extreme weather events to stunning landscapes.
As for the future of the space station, it currently has approval to operate until at least December 2024, though there remains every chance that it will continue to host international space travelers until at least 2028. In the meantime, expect to see international space agencies making the most of the unique conditions aboard the ISS to continue their scientific work for the benefit of us all.