Spaceflight Insider

International Space Station completes 100,000th orbit

ISS 135

The International Space Station as seen by the departing crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis during the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-135. Photo Credit: NASA

The International Space Station (ISS) has completed its 100,000th orbit around Earth. For the past 17 years, the outpost has been a hub of scientific advancement, international cooperation, and fantastic views of our home world.

At 12:10 a.m. EDT (06:10 GMT) on Monday, May 16, 2016, the ISS began its 100,000th orbit since the launch of the first element—the Zarya Functional Cargo Block—which took place on Nov. 20, 1998, atop a Russian Proton-K rocket.

three millionth photo

The Expedition 47 crew posed for the three millionth photo taken by crews living aboard the International Space Station. The photo was taken May 5, 2016. Photo Credit: NASA

“It’s a tribute to the teams that designed [ISS], that put it together, the programs that keep us flying safe, the people that work 24/7, 365 days a year, to keep us effectively executing the mission and executing it safely,” said Expedition 47 Flight Engineer and NASA astronaut, Jeff Williams.

The ISS is a partnership between five major space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). All total, some 16 different nations are involved with the project.

Flying more than 2.6 billion miles, the outpost has seen visitors and crews from 18 different countries. Over 220 individual astronauts and cosmonauts have floated through the station’s modules, including the current Expedition 47 crew: NASA astronauts Williams and Tim Kopra (the Expedition 47 Commander), ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin, Oleg Skripochka, and Yuri Malenchenko.

The first crews began serving tours on the ISS in November 2000. Since then, the 15.5 year period of continuous human occupation has seen more than 1,922 research investigations performed with over 1,200 scientific results published as a result. Among those experiments are the Veggie study, which aims to help scientists understand how plants grow in microgravity, and the Twin’s study, which studied the effects of microgravity on Scott Kelly (who was in space for nearly a year) in comparison to his twin brother Mark (who was on Earth for that same period).

Other experiments, such as the Robotic Refueling Mission, are teaching engineers techniques on how to repair and refuel satellites that were never designed to be serviced in space.

Additionally, the outpost has become a breeding ground for entrepreneurship. With the commercial crew and cargo programs ongoing, private companies, such SpaceX and Orbital ATK, are sending much-needed supplies and equipment to the orbiting laboratory. In addition to the regular station cargo, hitching rides with those private ships are equipment and experiments paid for by smaller companies, such as Planet Labs, which designs CubeSats that are then deployed from the ISS.

Bering Sea Ice

Among the millions of photos taken by ISS crews are those of Earth’s features. This photo shows the last of the Bering Sea ice melting along this part of Russia’s coastline. Photo Credit: Tim Peake / NASA

When the first piece was launched in 1998, the outpost was expected to be de-orbited as early as this year (2016). However, in 2010, all ISS partner agencies agreed to extend the laboratory’s life to 2020. More recently, these agencies have either endorsed or promised funding for the program through 2024.

Boeing, the space station’s prime contractor, is currently evaluating whether the outpost could operate safely through 2028—the 30-year anniversary of the first hardware launched.

Williams noted that the success of the ISS is a tribute to past space stations, such as Mir and Skylab.

“Just 43 years ago, on May 14, Skylab launched, which flew for a little less than a year, and hosted three crews,” Williams said, “One hundred thousand orbits: the journey continues.”

Video Courtesy of NASA Johson


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

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