International Space Station marks 15 years in Earth's orbit

Second brightest object in our night sky has been home to 200 astronauts, 1,500 experiments

The International Space Station hit a major milestone today, marking 15 years in space.

On Nov. 20, 1998, the Russian Space Agency , now known as Roscosmos, launched a Proton rocket that carried a pressurized module, named Zarya, or sunrise, into Earth's orbit.

The crew of the International Space Station pays tribute to the orbiter's 15th anniversary. (NASA video)

Zarya was the first piece of the International Space Station. It provided the main point of orientation control, communications and electrical power while the station was eventually built out with other modules and elements.

That one fateful launch was the beginning of what has become the largest international cooperative effort in space.

Today, the space station is home to a rotating crew of astronauts from organizations and countries including NASA, the European Space Agency, Russia and Japan. More than 200 people from 15 countries have lived and worked there.

The orbiting station, which has been built out to the size of a football field and carries several robotic arms, a talking robot and a humanoid robot, has also been the site of about 1,500 scientific experiments .

According to NASA, the station, with a mass of almost 1 million pounds, is second only to the moon as the brightest object in the night sky.

Fifty-two computers run the systems onboard the station, which travels the equivalent distance to the moon and back in about a day.

"There's much more to be learned aboard the station and I look forward eagerly to the milestones of the coming years," said Charles Bolden, NASA administrator in a video posted online today. "It's our home in orbit where we're learning to live and work in space for the long term. It's integral to our exploration strategy. It's a unique global resource."

He also noted that scientists from 69 countries have been able to send their experiments to be conducted on the space station.

"Astronauts from many countries demonstrate what is achievable when nations work together toward common goals that improve life everywhere," Bolden added.

A few weeks after Zarya was launched, NASA's Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off, carrying Unity, the first U.S. piece of the station.

Built on opposite sides of the planet, Unity was joined with Zarya, making the space station an international effort.

Since that first pairing, the space station grew over the years, piece by piece. Additions to the orbiter came from three continents.

The space station was considered complete on Feb. 24, 2011, when assembly was finished on the Italian module, Leonardo.

The first crew to live aboard the space station launched on a Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 31, 2000, as Expedition 1, and consisted of one NASA astronaut, Commander Bill Shepherd, and two Russian cosmonauts, Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.

There have been humans living and working on the orbiter ever since.

Over the years, astronauts have conducted 174 spacewalks , totaling nearly 1,100 hours -- the equivalent of nearly 46 days -- to build and maintain the station.

This article, International Space Station marks 15 years in Earths orbit, was originally published at

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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