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New space record set for crew in Earth orbit

For a brief time on Tuesday, there were more people in Earth orbit than ever before.

With 11 people aboard the International Space Station (ISS) until just a few hours ago, and three Chinese taikonauts arriving at the Chinese space station on Tuesday to join three other crewmembers already there, the number of people in Earth orbit reached 17.

It beats the 14-person record set during the privately funded Inspiration4 mission in September 2021, when 10 people were aboard the ISS and four crewmembers traveled as part of the private mission for several days, space.com reported.

The ISS has been unusually busy for the last eight days due to the presence of NASA’s second all-private Ax-2 crew, which reached the orbital outpost on May 22. For the last week or so, Ax-2’s four members have been living and working alongside the seven crewmembers already aboard the ISS.

At the time of writing, the Ax-2 crew had departed the station and on Tuesday evening will splash down off the coast of Florida aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Humans have had a constant presence in space ever since the ISS started hosting crew on a rotational basis two decades ago. Now China has its own space station in Earth orbit, too, paving the way for more people to live off-Earth.

With privately funded space stations expected to be built in the coming years, the orbital crew count is set to rise. The number of astronauts in space will rise further if NASA fulfills its ambition to build a base on the moon where astronauts will be able to live and work for extended periods in a similar way to how they do in Earth orbit today.

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Trevor Mogg
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