After almost 18 years of circling Earth, the International Space Station completed its 100,000th orbit on Monday.
To remind us all of how completely metal that is, NASA released a video that breaks down what 100,000 trips around the planet actually means. That's handy for me, because I can barely comprehend the distance between my bed and the bathroom most weekend mornings.
One hundred thousand orbits around the planet is equal to:
- 10 round trips to Mars
- Nearly the distance to Neptune
- More than 2.6 billion miles
Yeah, so this modular hunk of titanium, Kevlar, and high-grade steel has travelled pretty damn far. Along the way, the 222 people that have visited the space station—Canada announced on Monday that one more astronaut, David Saint-Jacques, will join their ranks in 2018—have contributed to a total of 1,200 scientific publications, according to NASA.
The work that's gone the distance has produced the first 100 percent space-grown meal (a very sad salad), tested methods to convert pee and sweat into drinking water, and provided a fine home in orbit for many a rodent. The station has also been periodically infested with bacteria from human skin, which is disgusting, but important, because the ISS's mission is to study the long-term effects of spaceflight on humans so we can travel to Mars and beyond.
They still have a ways to go in terms of studying women instead of mostly just men, however.
It's hard not to feel just a little bit of pride about what humanity has managed to accomplish here. That the ISS, a collaboration between the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, and Europe, has flown this far (almost) without incident is about as impressive as the fact that somehow we've managed not to end all life on Earth with a nuclear winter in the last half-century.
The station has done a lot to help people here feel more connected to each other. The ISS has given us some of the most striking views of our planet, which will make you want to be a better person even if your heart is as dead and cold as the void of deep space.
I mean, Russia hasn't always been happy with the arrangement, and China has been barred from playing in the extraterrestrial schoolyard sandbox. But even if the geopolitical situation planetside continues to be spectacularly fucked, hopefully we'll put our differences aside for another few trips around the planet on the International Space Station.
And since the mission has been extended to 2024, well past its initial end date, things are looking up on that front.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated: "Ten thousand orbits around the planet is equal to 10 round trips to Mars." But the article is about the 100,000-orbit milestone that was just reached. The piece has been updated to correct this error.