India Crypto Exchange

Best Bitcoin Trading Platform

Tag Archive : Columbia

International Space Station marking 20 years of people living in orbit

The International Space Station was a cramped, humid, puny three rooms when the first crew moved in. Twenty years and 241 visitors later, the complex has a lookout tower, three toilets, six sleeping compartments and 12 rooms, depending on how you count.

Monday marks two decades of a steady stream of people living there.

Astronauts from 19 countries have floated through the space station hatches, including many repeat visitors who arrived on shuttles for short-term construction work, and several tourists who paid their own way.

The first crew – American Bill Shepherd and Russians Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko – blasted off from Kazakhstan on Oct. 31, 2000. Two days later, they swung open the space station doors, clasping their hands in unity.

Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL who served as the station commander, likened it to living on a ship at sea. The three spent most of their time coaxing equipment to work; balky systems made the place too warm. Conditions were primitive, compared with now.

Installations and repairs took hours at the new space station, versus minutes on the ground, Krikalev recalled.

“Each day seemed to have its own set of challenges,” Shepherd said during a recent NASA panel discussion with his crewmates.

The space station has since morphed into a complex that’s almost as long as a football field, with eight miles (13 kilometers) of electrical wiring, an acre of solar panels and three high-tech labs.

“It’s 500 tons of stuff zooming around in space, most of which never touched each other until it got up there and bolted up,” Shepherd told The Associated Press. “And it’s all run for 20 years with almost no big problems.”

“It’s a real testament to what can be done in these kinds of programs,” he said.

Shepherd, 71, is long retired from NASA and lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Krikalev, 62, and Gidzenko, 58, have risen in the Russian space ranks. Both were involved in the mid-October launch of the 64th crew.

The first thing the three did once arriving at the darkened space station on Nov. 2, 2000, was turn on the lights, which Krikalev recalled as “very memorable.” Then they heated water for hot drinks and activated the lone toilet.

“Now we can live,” Gidzenko remembers Shepherd saying. “We have lights, we have hot water and we have toilet.”

The crew called their new home Alpha, but the name didn’t stick.

Although pioneering the way, the three had no close calls during their nearly five months up there, Shepherd said, and so far the station has held up relatively well.

NASA’s top concern nowadays is the growing threat from space junk. This year, the orbiting lab has had to dodge debris three times.

As for station amenities, astronauts now have near-continuous communication with flight controllers and even an internet phone for personal use. The first crew had sporadic radio contact with the ground; communication blackouts could last hours.

While the three astronauts got along fine, tension sometimes bubbled up between them and the two Mission Controls, in Houston and outside Moscow. Shepherd got so frustrated with the “conflicting marching orders” that he insisted they come up with a single plan.

“I’ve got to say, that was my happiest day in space,” he said during the panel discussion.

With its first piece launched in 1998, the International Space Station already has logged 22 years in orbit. NASA and its partners contend it easily has several years of usefulness left 260 miles (400 kilometers) up.

The Mir station – home to Krikalev and Gidzenko in the late 1980s and 1990s – operated for 15 years before being guided to a fiery reentry over the Pacific in 2001. Russia’s earlier stations and America’s 1970s Skylab had much shorter life spans, as did China’s much more recent orbital outposts.

Astronauts spend most of their six-month stints these days keeping the space station running and performing science experiments. A few have even spent close to a year up there on a single flight, serving as medical guinea pigs. Shepherd and his crew, by contrast, barely had time for a handful of experiments.

The first couple weeks were so hectic – “just working and working and working,” according to Gidzenko – that they didn’t shave for days. It took awhile just to find the razors.

Even back then, the crew’s favorite pastime was gazing down at Earth. It takes a mere 90 minutes for the station to circle the world, allowing astronauts to soak in a staggering 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day.

The current residents – one American and two Russians, just like the original crew – plan to celebrate Monday’s milestone by sharing a special dinner, enjoying the views of Earth and remembering all the crews who came before them, especially the first.

But it won’t be a day off: “Probably we’ll be celebrating this day by hard work,” Sergei Kud-Sverchkov said Friday from orbit.

One of the best outcomes of 20 years of continuous space habitation, according to Shepherd, is astronaut persity.

While men still lead the pack, more crews include women. Two U.S. women have served as space station skipper. Commanders typically are American or Russian, but have also come from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan. While African-Americans have made short visits to the space station, the first Black resident is due to arrive in mid-November on SpaceX’s second astronaut flight.

Massive undertakings like human Mars trips can benefit from the past two decades of international experience and cooperation, Shepherd said.

“If you look at the space station program today, it’s a blueprint on how to do it. All those questions about how this should be organized and what it’s going to look like, the big questions are already behind us,” he told the AP.

Russia, for instance, kept station crews coming and going after NASA’s Columbia disaster in 2003 and after the shuttles retired in 2011.

When Shepherd and his crewmates returned to Earth aboard shuttle Discovery after nearly five months, his main objective had been accomplished.

“Our crew showed that we can work together,” he said.

Who’s an astronaut as private spaceflight picks up speed?

As more companies start selling tickets to space, a question looms: Who gets to call themselves an astronaut?

It’s already a complicated issue and about to get more so as the wealthy snap up spacecraft seats and even entire flights for themselves and their entourages.

Astronauts? Amateur astronauts? Space tourists? Space sightseers? Rocket riders? Or as the Russians have said for decades, spaceflight participants?

NASA’s new boss Bill Nelson doesn’t consider himself an astronaut even though he spent six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard space shuttle Columbia – as a congressman.

“I reserve that term for my professional colleagues,” Nelson recently told The Associated Press.

Computer game developer Richard Garriott – who paid his way to the International Space Station in 2008 with the Russians – hates the space tourist label. “I am an astronaut,” he declared in an email, explaining that he trained for two years for the mission.

“If you go to space, you’re an astronaut,” said Axiom Space’s Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who will accompany three businessmen to the space station in January, flying SpaceX. His $55 million-a-seat clients plan to conduct research up there, he stressed, and do not consider themselves space tourists.

There’s something enchanting about the word: Astronaut comes from the Greek words for star and sailor. And swashbuckling images of “The Right Stuff” and NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts make for great marketing.

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, is already calling its future clients “astronauts.” It’s auctioning off one seat on its first spaceflight with people on board, targeted for July. NASA even has a new acronym: PAM for Private Astronaut Mission.

Retired NASA astronaut Mike Mullane didn’t consider himself an astronaut until his first space shuttle flight in 1984, six years after his selection by NASA.

“It doesn’t matter if you buy a ride or you’re assigned to a ride,” said Mullane, whose 2006 autobiography is titled “Riding Rockets.” Until you strap into a rocket and reach a certain altitude, “you’re not an astronaut.”

It remains a coveted assignment. More than 12,000 applied for NASA’s upcoming class of astronauts; a lucky dozen or so will be selected in December.

But what about passengers who are along for the ride, like the Russian actress and movie director who will fly to the space station in October? Or Japan’s moonstruck billionaire who will follow them from Kazakhstan in December with his production assistant tagging along to document everything? In each case, a professional cosmonaut will be in charge of the Soyuz capsule.

SpaceX’s high tech capsules are completely automated, as are Blue Origin’s. So should rich riders and their guests be called astronauts even if they learn the ropes in case they need to intervene in an emergency?

Perhaps even more important, where does space begin?

The Federal Aviation Administration limits its commercial astronaut wings to flight crews. The minimum altitude is 50 miles (80 kilometers). It’s awarded seven so far; recipients include the two pilots for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic who made another test flight of the company’s rocket ship Saturday.

Others define space as beginning at an even 100 kilometers, or 62 miles above sea level.

Blue Origin’s capsules are designed to reach that threshold and provide a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth, By contrast, it takes 1 1/2 hours to circle the world. The Association of Space Explorers requires at least one orbit of Earth – in a spacecraft – for membership.

The Astronauts Memorial Foundation honors all those who sacrificed their lives for the U.S. space program even if they never reached space, like Challenger schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and the test pilot killed in a 2014 Virgin Galactic crash. Also on the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: X-15 and F-104 Air Force pilots who were part of a military space program that never got off the ground.

The astronaut debate has been around since the 1960s, according to Garriott. His late father, Owen Garriott, was among the first so-called scientist-astronauts hired by NASA; the test pilots in the office resented sharing the job title.

It might be necessary to retire the term altogether once hundreds if not thousands reach space, noted Fordham University history professor Asif Siddiqi, the author of several space books. “Are we going to call each and every one of them astronauts?”

Mullane, the three-time space shuttle flier, suggests using astronaut first class, second class, third class, “depending on what your involvement is, whether you pull out a wallet and write a check.”

While a military-style pecking order might work, former NASA historian Roger Launius warned: “This gets really complicated really quickly.”

In the end, Mullane noted, “Astronaut is not a copyrighted word. So anybody who wants to call themselves an astronaut can call themselves an astronaut, whether they’ve been in space or not.”