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Here’s how the space station made history 25 years ago today

The crew of STS-88, the first shuttle mission to the International Space Station in 1998.
The crew of STS-88, the first shuttle mission to the International Space Station in 1998. NASA

It was 25 years ago, on December 11, that the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed its first visitors.

At that time, the orbital facility comprised just two modules and, therefore, was tiny compared to what it’s since become.

The station began life on December 6, 1998, when the U.S. Unity module was connected to Russia’s Zarya module just a few days before the fledgling facility welcomed its first guests.

NASA marked the occasion with a post on social media featuring a photo of the first arrivals, together with an image of the two modules — the new space station — in orbit about 250 miles above Earth.

“On this historic day in 1998, the space station opened for the very first time in orbit, welcoming the STS-88 crew aboard,” NASA wrote in the post, adding: “Since then, 43 modules and elements have been installed and more than 270 individuals from over 20 countries and five international partners have visited.”

On this historic day in 1998, the space station opened for the very first time in orbit, welcoming the STS-88 crew aboard.

Since then, 43 modules and elements have been installed and more than 270 individuals from over 20 countries and five international partners have visited. pic.twitter.com/ud89SC29gO

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) December 10, 2023

The STS-88 crew traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and included five NASA astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut, namely Robert Cabana, Frederick Sturckow, Jerry Ross, Nancy Currie, James Newman, and Sergei Krikalev.

The mission lasted just 11 days but was vitally important as it marked the true beginning of the International Space Station that we know today.

Additional work was required to prepare the ISS for long-duration stays, the first of which began in November 2000 with Expedition 1. Since then, the station has had an uninterrupted human presence, with crews rotating every six months or so.

While the ISS is set to be decommissioned in 2031, a number of private companies are looking to build new orbital outposts to host international astronauts.

For more on how crews live and work in the challenging microgravity conditions in low-Earth orbit, take a look at this collection of short videos made by the astronauts during visits over the years.

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