The global space industry is celebrating 15 years of continuous human habitation in space as the International Space Station reaches a major milestone.
Gallery: 10 striking images from the International Space Station [above]
The first crew, the Expedition 1, arrived at the orbital outpost on 2 November 2000 and the space station has never been left empty since. The first crew, led by Nasa astronaut William Shepherd, had only three members, with the other two being Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.
The station at this point consisted only of three modules: Russian Zarya and Zvezda and American Unity. It has since expanded into a $100bn structure about the size of a football field – arguably the most complex engineering structure ever created.
Watch the assembly of the International Space Station in the animation below:
The current six-strong ISS crew, led by American astronaut Scott Kelly, celebrated the anniversary today together with ground-based control teams and media during a 30-minute press conference.
American Kjell Lindgren, Russians Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov are currently aboard the space station together with Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.
Orbiting some 400km above the Earth’s surface, the space station – essentially a giant research laboratory – has enabled mankind to advance the understanding of biological and physical sciences as well as the knowledge of Earth. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko are currently halfway through their record-breaking one-year stay in space that will increase our understanding of the effects of space environment and weightlessness on the human body.
The station, with more than an acre of solar arrays, is the second-brightest object in the night sky after the Moon.
The station, a partnership between the European Space Agency, Nasa, the Japanese Space Agency, Roscosmos and the Canadian Space Agency, is currently expected to remain operational at least until 2024.
The first British citizen travelling on behalf of the UK government, Esa astronaut Tim Peake, will arrive at the station in December.