30 January 2015

The Atlantic: “5,200 Days in Space”

Spaceflight has faded from American consciousness even as our performance in space has reached a new level of accomplishment. In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation. All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000. Mission Control in Houston literally never sleeps now, and in one corner of a huge video screen there, a counter ticks the days and hours the Space Station has been continuously staffed. The number is rounding past 5,200 days.

It’s a little strange when you think about it: Just about every American ninth-grader has never lived a moment without astronauts soaring overhead, living in space. But chances are, most ninth-graders don’t know the name of a single active astronaut—many don’t even know that Americans are up there. We’ve got a permanent space colony, inaugurated a year before the setting of the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a stunning achievement, and it’s completely ignored.

Charles Fishman

It’s even stranger if you think about the burst of excitement on Twitter as the Rosetta probe started orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and Philae landed on its surface. I think the public feeling is that NASA has stopped taking risks in space exploration – the activity has certainly slowed down from the adventurous start in the ‘60s, when no less than five probes were sent out towards Venus in a single year. Fortunately, there are others willing to step up and tackle the challenge of space – and to bear the sometimes tragic consequences.

Astronaut spacewalk over Earth

The article does add some insight into the daily lives of astronauts and the numerous challenges and rewards of living in space, from sleep to water recycling, sweating and cooking, to their strict schedule and, above all, the magnificent view of Earth. Although I’m pretty sure none of us can get a real sense of how it’s like without going there in person.

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