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The live clock for the International Space Station (ISS), located on its homepage on the NASA website, shows that it has been in orbit for 6,468 days, as of August 5th, 2016. During that time, much has changed in our world, but the ISS remains in orbit, flying at an average altitude of 248 miles above the Earth.
Five primary space agencies (the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada) built and continue to operate the space station. A major endeavor in space architecture, construction of the ISS meant pieces had to be brought up into space one at a time, a process that began in 1998. $100 billion and two years later, the football-field-sized station has been continuously occupied since November 2000. Surprisingly, the crew on the ISS is small. Usually, only six people are needed to operate it, a standard that was initiated in 2009, when more than the original three crew members were needed as more modules and labs were installed.
The crews not only work on scientific endeavors, but simple maintenance as well. They are assisted by mission control in both Houston and Moscow, and if the crew needs to evacuate the station for any reason, they can return to Earth aboard two Russian Soyuz vehicles that are docked on the station. Each expedition crew stays on the station from four to six months, and NASA plans on having the space station operated at least until the year 2020. There are so many benefits the station provides, especially for international business. Canada, Russia, and Japan have all expressed their interest in keeping the station going.
Since its first component launched into orbit in 1998, the ISS has been a constant in the space program. While space shuttles have come and gone, the ISS and its various crews have continued their mission. There have been a few accidents, but nothing compared to the tragedies of the space shuttle program. The ISS will hopefully continue to be the building block of further space exploration for years to come.
All images courtesy of NASA