The International Space Station has been in orbit for 25 years, a milestone that NASA and its astronauts are commemorating.
On Wednesday afternoon, the federal space agency aired a live chat featuring the Expedition 70 crew, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Cabana, and space station program manager Joel Montalbano.
The International Space Station (ISS) was launched on November 25, 1998, but according to NASA, one of the ISS’s initial components, Unity, was attached to the Zarya module that was already in orbit on December 6.
The crew currently shares meals in Unity, which served as a link between the Russian and American portions of the station.
Cabana was the first American to enter the International Space Station (ISS) and led the mission to connect the two modules.
“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.”
Since then, the station has expanded to the size of an American football field, with multiple areas for scientific research, two restrooms, a gym, and six sleeping quarters.
“Testing technologies, performing science, and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth,” according to a NASA press release, the space station has been inhabited continuously for more than 23 years.
NASA reports that 273 individuals from 21 different countries have visited the station and that over 3,300 investigations have been carried out there.
During the call, the crew gave an overview of some of the research they are doing to better understand how the human body adjusts to space and how physiology and psychology work to support astronauts on extended missions.
During the call, NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, one of the crew’s flight engineers, stated, “The other thing that we’ve all been getting to work on… is a couple of different experiments in the life sciences glove box.” “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 went on, “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.”
Kennedy Space Center, part of ASA, celebrated the achievement on Wednesday in a post on X
“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 message read.
But NASA officials have stated that the space station program will eventually come to an end. NASA has observed aging and weakening in several of its components, particularly in its central trusses, radiators, and modules.
The International Space Station (ISS) has seen wear and tear from the frequent arrival and departure of vehicles as well as the intense heating and cooling cycles it endures during each orbit around the Earth.
NASA is looking to shift its low-orbit operations to commercially owned and operated space programs as it concentrates more of its efforts on initiatives like Artemis, which will require more funding and is the “clear congressional priority.”
NASA has promised to use and run the space station until 2030. NASA intends to deorbit the ISS in 2031, and during its natural descent, it will aim for the component to splashdown in a secluded, uninhabited area of the ocean.