The International Space Station has been humanity’s foothold in orbit for 20 years


For 20 years, humans have had an unbroken presence in orbit on the International Space Station. But that two-decade stretch is just the first phase of a bright future for humanity in space, astronauts and the station’s builders say.

The stretch of uninterrupted crewed flights to the space station began on Nov. 2, 2000, when the the U.S.-Russian Expedition 1 crew docked for a 136-day mission. The accomplishment is no small feat given situations that could have interrupted the string of missions. 

Some of the major obstacles overcome include the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 that killed seven astronauts, a severe spat in 2014 between major space station partners the United States and Russia concerning Russia’s invasion of Crimea, a string of cargo ship failures during the one-year ISS mission in 2015 and 2016, a harrowing 2018 Soyuz launch abort, commercial spacecraft delays and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in 2020, to name a few.

Expedition 1 crewmates Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev pose with a model of the space station after becoming its first crew in November 2000..  (Image credit: NASA)

As the 20th anniversary arrives, the station’s current Expedition 64 crew remains busy in orbit. Like most of the 240 or so station residents who came before this long-duration mission, the crew is made up of astronauts working for space agencies. But that demographic will likely broaden very quickly in the coming years.

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