NASA marks 10th anniversary of space station habitation

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.--On the eve of the shuttle Discovery's launch to the International Space Station, NASA and its international partners celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first crew's arrival at the lab complex, a milestone that comes as construction nears an end and the focus shifts to science.

"You are part of an amazing legacy there on station," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told the lab's six-member crew. "The accomplishments, maintaining human presence there, are mind boggling when you really stop and think about it. The partnership between the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia and all the member nations of the European Space Agency are something of which we can all be proud.

"You're truly ambassadors, you do more than almost any other organization from any of our countries can do in terms of proving humans can, in fact, get along, co-exist and work cooperatively."

The International Space Station. (Photo: NASA)

Space station assembly began with the launch of the Russian Zarya propulsion and storage module on Nov. 20, 1998. Expedition 1 commander Bill Shepherd, Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko arrived at the outpost on Nov. 2, 2000, kicking off the permanent occupancy of the space station.

Since then, 196 astronauts, cosmonauts and space tourists have visited the growing laboratory over the course of 57,361 orbits and 1.5 billion miles.

As of Tuesday morning at 5:21 a.m. EDT (EDT=GMT-4), the 10th anniversary of Expedition 1's docking, the station had been continuously staffed by rotating two-, three- and six-member crews for 3,652 days, eight days longer than the record set by crews aboard the Russian Mir space station.

"It's a real treat to be here," Expedition 25 commander Douglas Wheelock told reporters. "It is like a dream come true. Every day there's new excitement and new adventure. ... We have a vehicle we need to maintain and science we need to conduct, they are busy days but very, very fruitful days. It's certainly also just a tremendous pleasure to be working with our NASA centers around the world and our international partners, all the different control centers, of course our Russian partners. It's just a thrill to watch these things unfold."

The space station now masses 782,085 pounds and includes 12 pressurized modules and 29,561 cubic feet of habitable volume, about the same as a 747 jumbo jet.

After Discovery's mission and the addition of a final U.S. module loaded with supplies and equipment, the mass will increase to 812,465 pounds and the volume will jump to 31,833 cubic feet.

At that point, the space station will be 96.5 percent complete, awaiting a new Russian module next year and a $2 billion physics experiment scheduled for launch aboard the shuttle Endeavour in February. A final resupply flight by the shuttle Atlantis is planned for next summer.

After the shuttle fleet is retired, NASA will rely on smaller unmanned Russian, European and Japanese cargo ships, along with new commercial spacecraft that are currently in development, to deliver the supplies and equipment needed by the space station to support a full-time crew of six.

"From a logistics standpoint, 2012 is going to be a real challenge for (the station program)," shuttle Program Manager John Shannon said late last month. "If there are delays in any of the new vehicles that are expected to deliver cargo to the station, that problem is just going to be exacerbated. It's hard to compare vehicles and capabilities. But my operations guy said one shuttle flight is roughly equivalent to about seven Progress flights. So if you think about that, you can do pretty well on one shuttle.

"So getting to fly (Atlantis) late is going to give the space station margin from a logistics standpoint to keep six crew (members) up, to keep doing the research, to keep doing the utilization even if some of those new vehicles are delayed by some period of time."

If the Atlantis mission is not launched "and the new vehicles that are going to deliver cargo are delayed and we end up having a logistics shortfall in 2012 and we have to go down to three crew and we're not doing research, we have made a major error in my opinion," Shannon said.

Station flight engineer Scott Kelly said Tuesday he was optimistic NASA and its partners will avoid a logistics shortfall, but he agreed it will be difficult.

"With the imminent retirement of the space shuttle, logistics is certainly a challenge, but it's, I think, a challenge we will meet," he said. "But clearly when we lose the capability to fly the amount of mass up and down that the space shuttle provides, we've lost a significant capability. But I do think we will be able to continue supporting the space station. But certainly it will be difficult without the space shuttle."