Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Making Ourselves At Home: An Overlooked Space Milestone

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of the Yuri Gagarin's Vostok 1 mission and the beginning of human spaceflight. It also was the 30th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle launch. But last fall another significant milestone went largely unnoticed: the first 10 years of continuous human presence in space.

On Oct. 31, 2000, a three-person crew (pictured above) lifted off in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to begin the first of a series of extended missions aboard the newly opened International Space Station. "I think that on that day a decade ago, we truly became a space-faring species," astronomer/blogger Phil Plait wrote last fall.

Will astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev be remembered by history as Earth's first space colonists? That depends on whether the continuous presence that began with their five-month mission -- now 3,815 days and counting -- ultimately represents the starting point of a permanent presence. Since their Expedition One mission in 2000-2001, more than two-dozen overlapping crews and dozens of short-term visitors have spent time aboard the orbiting outpost.

While space travel remains a hazardous occupation, the routine of regular personnel rotations 180 miles above us made last year's anniversary easy for most earthbound humans to overlook. Catherine "Cady" Coleman, a member of the station's current six-person crew, underscored that Tuesday when she and the rest of the Expedition 27 team reflected on the significance of Gagarin anniversary in a video link with reporters. "Now, just 50 years later, living in space is considered to be practically normal," the astronaut said.

Coleman explained how her fourth-grade son's classmates "think it's perfectly normal that his mother calls from space and helps with homework." But of course all of that is far closer to amazing than it is to normal. As Coleman put it, "We've really come a very, very long way."

(Image of the Expedition One crew above from NASA. As for the the Earth's first space traveler, I offered my favorite Gagarin story on this day a year ago.)


Atlanta Roofing said...

This anniversary is different. There has been almost nothing in comparison to other technologies that has advanced in the last 50 years of human spaceflight. It is unfortunate, but true.

prasad said...

Russia faced so many difficulties to reach this position. If Russia didn't split in different countries no doubt it is the world's most powerful country. Russia come to this position with their (own) men power but America come to its position with different countries people effort so Russia is the greatest country like India.

Anonymous said...

Earth's first space traveler? Laika the dog on Sputnik 2.