International Space Station completes its 100,000th orbit
Having spent over 17years in low-Earth orbit (LEO) the International Space Station (ISS)has completed its 100,000th lap of planet Earth. At this point the station, which has beenpermanently manned since the year 2000, has traveled over2,643,342,240 miles (4,254,046,974 km) through the near perfect vacuum of space – the equivalent of 10 roundtrips to Mars.
The ISS was firstlaunched in 1998 and stands today as mankind's only habitable outpostbeyond Earth's nurturing atmospheric shell. It has withstood the testof time, a silent witness to the coming and going of world leaderswhile remaining an island of tranquility in spite of the tensionsthat have too often plagued participating nations on the planetbelow.
Roughly the size of anAmerican football pitch, the station has been a home to 222astronauts and cosmonauts, who over the course of their stay in LEOhave performed over 1,200 research investigations ranging from 3D printing to a study on the effects of microgravity on twins.
Photos taken by crewmembers have documented life aboard the ISS as well as the Earthbelow in exquisite beauty, and the crew of Expedition 47 recently captured the 3 millionth image from aboard the station.Alongside these images, a near live HD view of our planet is streamed to anyone with internet access from cameras mounted onthe exterior of the station.
However, as has beenthe case back on Earth, mankind's success in developing newtechnologies and advancing itself has come at a cost to the LEOenvironment. It is now estimated that there are over 12,000 pieces ofman made debris over the size of 10 cm (3.9 inches) orbiting Earth atspeeds of up to 15 km per sec (9.32 miles per sec).
This debris is ahazard to future manned and unmanned endeavors, and has forcedmission operators to alter the space station's orbit a number oftimes to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision. Having awoken to the problem, launch vehicle and satellite manufacturers are workingto mitigate mankind's ever-increasing footprint on the environmentsurrounding Earth.
The ISS, which can beeasily spotted as a very bright, moving star as it passes overhead,remains a point of great pride and inspiration for men, women andchildren across the globe. Moving forward, research carried out onthe station will continue to better the lives of the people below,and will serve as a vital part of NASA's future manned mission to theRed Planet.
Anyone wishing to viewthe station with the naked eye can visit a dedicated NASA webpage tofind out exactly when and for how long the ISS will be visible fromtheir location.