The International Space Station registered its 100,000th orbit around the planet today, providing NASA with a news hook for looking at what humanity’s farthest-out outpost has done over the past 17 years.
“During that time, over 1,922 research investigations have been performed,” NASA said in a Tumblr post marking the occasion. “More than 1,200 scientific results publications have been produced as a result.”
Among the best-known studies are those documenting the long-term health effects of spaceflight – findings that serve as cautionary tales for future trips to Mars. Even before the first elements of the space station were launched in 1998, researchers knew that extended stays in weightlessness resulted in bone and muscle loss. But space station studies showed that long-term spacefliers suffered vision impairment and headaches as well.
Future research will look at ways to mitigate or compensate for such health issues, including electromagnetic shields to guard against space radiation.
— NASA (@NASA) May 16, 2016
Other experiments have delved into the crops that Mars-bound astronauts could grow during their journey to Mars, and how 3-D printers could manufacture the spare parts they’ll need along the way.
The space station makes a full circuit around Earth every 90 minutes, at a speed of 17,500 mph. That translates into a total odometer distance of more than 2.6 billion miles, which is the equivalent of 10 round trips between Mars and Earth, or almost one outbound trip from Earth to Neptune.
Even as NASA celebrates the space station’s past, several developments highlight the road ahead:
Today the space station’s crew deployed a series of small satellites known as CubeSats, using a spring-loaded launcher that’s set up in the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. One of the satellites was STMSat-1, the first CubeSat in space to be built by elementary-school students. The spacecraft team includes about 400 kids from St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, Va., from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. STMSat-1 will take slow-scan TV pictures of Earth and transmit them to ground stations via amateur radio.
— NASA (@NASA) May 16, 2016
Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques took the spotlight today when the Canadian Space Agency announced he’d be part of the space station’s Expedition 58/59 crew, due for launch in November 2018. The physician and astrophysicist follows in the footsteps of Canadian musician-astronaut Chris Hadfield, arguably one of the station’s best-known spacefliers. (Can you name the six crewmates currently aboard the station? Answer below.) This will be Saint-Jacques’ first stint in space, after what will amount to nine years of training. Other members of Expedition 58/59 are to be named later.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM, is due to be stretched out to its full extent next week, following up on last month’s launch aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. The structure, which unfolds to about four times its folded-up size, serves as an experimental prototype for space habitats that could be used for the journey to Mars. Bigelow Aerospace, BEAM’s builder, is making plans to have an even bigger expandable module launched into Earth orbit in 2020.
Future Mars odysseys will be the main topic at this year’s Human to Mars Summit, taking place at George Washington University on Tuesday through Thursday. Among the speakers are Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Andy Weir, author of “The Martian.” Check out the agenda, then watch the webcast.
Who’s on the space station now? Expedition 47 crewmates include NASA’s Tim Kopra and Jeff Williams, Britain’s Tim Peake, and Russia’s Yuri Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka.