Astronauts from 19 countries have floated through the space station hatches, including many repeat visitors who arrived on shuttles for short-term construction work, and several tourists who paid their own way.
The first crew — American Bill Shepherd and Russians Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko — blasted off from Kazakhstan on Oct. 31, 2000. Two days later, they swung open the space station doors, clasping their hands in unity.
Shepherd, a former Navy SEAL who served as the station commander, likened it to living on a ship at sea. The three spent most of their time coaxing equipment to work; balky systems made the place too warm. Conditions were primitive, compared with now.
Installations and repairs took hours at the new space station, versus minutes on the ground, Krikalev recalled.
“Each day seemed to have its own set of challenges,” Shepherd said during a recent NASA panel discussion with his crewmates.
The space station has since morphed into a complex that’s almost as long as a football field, with eight miles (13 kilometers) of electrical wiring, an acre of solar panels and three hightech labs.
“It’s 500 tons of stuff zooming around in space, most of which never touched each other until it got up there and bolted up,” Shepherd told The Associated Press. “And it’s all run for 20 years with almost no big problems.”
“It’s a real testament to what can be done in these kinds of programs,” he said.
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