Space Station Celebrates 12 Years Of Operation
November 2, 2012

Space Station Celebrates 12 Years Of Operation

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The International Space Station (ISS) officially opened for business twelve years ago today, marking a milestone in international efforts to expand life beyond Earth.

Bill Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev (Expedition 1) made history on November 2, 2000 when their Russian Soyuz capsule docked with the orbiting lab, making them the first crew to live and work on the space station.

From the moment the crew entered the space station, there have been people living and working in orbit ever since. The crew has been operational inside the laboratory now for 4,383 days, and counting.

The space station is a collaborative effort of five space agencies, representing 15 nations. Construction on the station first began in November, 1998, when the Zarya module was delivered.

Like satellites, the orbiting laboratory can be spotted in the night sky, without the use of any specialized equipment.

Over the past 12 years, the station has seen many records broken, including the record of being continuously occupied. Russia's Mir space station held the previous record after it had been in operation for 10 years.

Sergei Krikalev holds the record for the most time spent in space, lasting a total of 803 days and 9 hours and 39 minutes. Commander Michael Fincke is the U.S. space endurance record holder, with a total of 382 days.

The space station has also hosted the first space tourists, which are people who pay their own way to get into space. So far, the ISS has hosted seven space tourists, reaching the station via Russia's Soyuz crafts.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have faced close call situations over the past few years, having to take cover of possible impacts.

During a Debris Avoidance Maneuver, orbit is usually raised by about a mile. The astronauts take cover by retreating towards their Soyuz spacecraft so they could properly evacuate in the event of debris damaging the spacecraft. A partial evacuation has occurred on March 13, 2009, June 28 2011, and March 24, 2012.

The most recent Debris Avoidance Maneuver occurred Wednesday October 31, 2012, when Russia's Progress 48 fired its thrusters and moved the station out of the way of a piece of space junk from the Iridium 33 satellite. The date was also marked by the arrival of Progress 49, delivering supplies to the ISS.

The space station has also played host to numerous spacewalks over the years, with the most recent being today's spacewalk mission to fix a leaky radiator on the lab's port side truss. That spacewalk mission was the 166th in support of station assembly. In all, astronauts have spent a total of 1,049 hours and 1 minute walking in space outside the ISS—or the equivalent of 44 days.

For the last decade the space station has been providing valuable scientific research, as well as documentation of Earth from space. Its mission will continue at least until 2020, and possibly even through 2028.

Also, in celebration of the space station´s 12th year in service, NASA announced a new Spot The Station service that sends messages to people when they can expect to see the orbiting lab pass over their backyard.

As part of the new program, users who submit their email or cell phone number will receive an email or text just a few hours before the station makes its flyby.

“It's really remarkable to see the space station fly overhead and to realize humans built an orbital complex that can be spotted from Earth by almost anyone looking up at just the right moment,” William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a press release. “We're accomplishing science on the space station that is helping to improve life on Earth and paving the way for future exploration of deep space.”

When the station is visible, it is the brightest object in the night sky, apart from the moon. On a clear night, the station is visible as a fast moving point of light, similar in size and brightness to the planet Venus. Users who sign up for alerts can opt to receive either morning or evening flyby alerts, or both types of sightings if they choose so.

More than 90 percent of the Earth´s population are able to view station flyovers. However, the service is designed to only notify users of passes that are high enough in the sky to be easily visible over trees, buildings and other objects on the horizon.

NASA´s Johnson Space Center calculates the sighting information several times per week from more than 4,600 locations around the world, all of which are available on “Spot the Station.”

Sign up for “Spot the Station” here.