(NEW YORK) — NASA and its astronauts are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the International Space Station being in orbit.
The federal space agency broadcast a live conversation between the Expedition 70 crew and NASA Associate Administrator Robert Cabana and Joel Montalbano, space station program manager on Wednesday afternoon.
The ISS launched on Nov. 25, 1998, but it was on Dec. 6 that year that one of the first elements of the ISS, Unity, was attached to the already orbiting Zarya module, according to NASA.
Unity connected the American and Russian segments of the station and is currently where crew eat meals together.
Cabana was the commander of the mission to connect the two modules and the first American to enter the ISS.
“I cannot believe it was 25 years ago today that we grappled Zarya and joined it with the Unity node. Absolutely amazing,” he told the crew. “We really appreciate what you guys are doing up there, all the science, the investigations to make life better here on Earth and prepare us for exploring beyond our home planet.”
The station has since grown to the size of an American football field made up of six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms and a gym as well as multiple areas to perform scientific research.
The space station has been continuously occupied for more than 23 years, “testing technologies, performing science, and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth,” NASA said in a press release.
According to NASA, the station has been visited by 273 people from 21 countries and has conducted more than 3,300 investigation.
During the call, the crew described some of the experiments they are performing, studying physiology and psychology in space and how the human body adapts in space to help improve the health of astronauts on long duration missions.
“The other thing that we’ve all been getting to work on … is a couple of different experiments in the life sciences glove box,” NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, one of the flight engineers of the crew, said during the call. “And those experiments are all studying aging, so aging process of the human body and our immune system and how that’s impacted as we age.”
She continued, “Believe it or not, we all get older faster when we’re on orbit and so that essentially speeds up time for researchers so they can study the phenomenon that happens in our cells at a faster rate than they could on Earth. And again, the goal of that is helping improve the health of astronauts on longer duration missions to the moon and Mars but also to help improve life on Earth for people in terms of tissue degradation as we age.”
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center praised the milestone on Wednesday in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter).
“Since the connection of the Zarya and Unity modules in 1998, we have supported 80 of the 275 launches for ISS construction, resupply, and crew support, including … 37 Space Shuttle[s], 33 cargo resupply and 10 crewed spacecraft,” the post read.
However, the space station program will be coming to an end eventually, NASA officials have said. NASA has noticed signs of weakening and aging in components, specifically its modules, radiators, and central trusses.
The constantly arriving and departing vehicles as well as extreme heating and cooling cycles the ISS experiences for every obit around the Earth has put wear and tear on the station.
As NASA focuses more of its efforts on programs as such as Artemis, to return astronauts to the moon, which will require more funds and is the “clear congressional priority,” NASA is looking to transition its operations in low orbit to commercially owned and operated space programs.
NASA has committed to utilizing and operating the space station through 2030. In 2031, NASA plans to deorbit the ISS and as it naturally descends, will target the component to splashdown in a remote, unpopulated area of the ocean.
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