Friday, October 12, 2012

Reason #260: Endurance

In March of 2015, two astronauts--one American, one Russian--will depart for the International Space Station on a thrilling, almost-unprecedented mission: in order to study the effects of an extended manned mission to Mars, they will have to stay there for a full year.

Though that's twice the length of a typical stay aboard the ISS, it's only half the time a Mars mission would take. Meanwhile, the ISS itself is another milestone in space endurance; while individual missions have never been more than six months long, the station has been inhabited continuously for just shy of twelve years now.

Throughout that time, the ISS has completed around fifteen orbits of the Earth every day, averaging roughly seventeen thousand miles per hour, between 205 and 255 miles above the surface of the planet.

Now, not only are ISS missions getting longer (NASA and the RSA will be considering year-long missions as the status quo if the first is successful), but it's also becoming more crowded. When the station was built in the late nineties, it was designed to "comfortably" support seven astronauts, yet it has never actually held that many at once--for its first several years, missions were limited to only two or three individuals at a time, and over the last decade, that number has slowly ramped up to six.

While no one ISS mission has ever lasted more than six months, humans have in fact already been in space for more than a year consecutively--Russian Valeri Polyakov holds the record, at 438 consecutive days aboard the Mir space station in the late nineties. Russians also kick our asses in total cumulative time in space--the record for an American is 382 days, while the overall record is Sergei Krikalev's whopping 803 days--well over two years.

Meanwhile, the ISS has also been a major player in the emerging field of space tourism, having hosted seven different private citizens in its lifetime--all of whom were carried there by Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the price of $20-40 million, because NASA is apparently allergic to money.

Further Reading

1st Year-Long Space Station Mission May Launch in 2015

Wikipedia - International Space Station

Wikipedia - Space tourism

Wikipedia - List of spaceflight records

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