Space Station Comes Of Age After 18 Years In Orbit

In an age where science fiction becomes fact at the speed of light, the international space station has celebrated 18 years in orbit above the Earth.

The first section was launched in November 1998 by the Russians.

A second module was sent into space two weeks later, but the first astronauts did not move in until November 2000.

Since then, the multi-billion-dollar international space station has stood out as a beacon of unity and co-operation between the USA, Russia and the European Space Agency despite some confrontational politics on the ground between Washington and Moscow.

Astronauts on the space station had little chance to join the celebrations as the day was booked switching crews.

Fire controls

The current residents are Thomas Pesquet, from France; Russian Oleg Novitsky and American Peggy Whitson.

Whitson has also set a personal record as the space station’s oldest crew member – she’s 56 years old. By the end of her six-month stint she will also take over as America’s most experienced astronaut after clocking up more than 540 hours aloft during her career with NASA.

One of Whitson’s main missions during her space station stay is to test a variety of fire safety materials for controlling fires in space in preparation for a mission to Mars.

Meanwhile, NASA wants to sell the space station as the modules reach the end of their shelf-life.

The change-over is expected to take place around 2025 as NASA looks for a commercial partner to take over running low-orbit experiments.

Worms in space

Not to be outdone, the Chinese reminded the scientific community that the nation is a contender in space.

Two astronauts have just returned to Earth after spending a month on the Chines Tiangong 2 space station.

The mission was the longest logged by Chinese astronauts and was called a ‘complete success’ by mission commanders. The astronauts carried out agricultural experiments to find out how growing plants reacted to low gravity. They have reportedly grown cress and rice.

The team also tended six silkworms which may be cultivated as food for space travellers.

Next month, the maiden flight of a Chinese cargo transporter will dock with the space station – nicknamed Heavenly Palace 2.

Space Station Comes Of Age After 18 Years In Orbit
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