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As space station marks 15th anniversary, robotic advances hit home

Sharon Gaudin | Nov. 5, 2015
With 15 years of human presence on the station, a look at the importance of robotics to the mission.

space station2
Credit: NASA

The International Space Station hit a significant milestone this week -- 15 years of humans living and working onboard the orbiter.

The space station has been a working test bed for scientific research, leading to advances in robotics, communications, water and air purification and even medical care.

"For 15 years, humanity's reach has extended beyond Earth's atmosphere," wrote NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement on the anniversary. "Since 2000, human beings have been living continuously aboard the space station, where they have been working off-the-Earth for the benefit of Earth, advancing scientific knowledge, demonstrating new technologies, and making research breakthroughs that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space."

The first crew docked at the space station, which orbits 249 miles above the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph, on Nov. 2, 2000.

Since then, more than 220 people from 17 countries have lived on the station. And in that time, more than 1,760 research investigations from scientists in 83 countries have been conducted, according to NASA.

The scientific work done on the space station has been highly productive.

According to the space agency, there have been more than 1,200 published scientific results based on experiments conducted on the space station.

"The International Space Station is a unique laboratory that has enabled groundbreaking research in the life and physical sciences and has provided a test bed for the technologies that will allow NASA to once again send astronauts beyond Earth's orbit," said Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a statement. "The international partnership that built and maintains the station is a shining example, moreover, of what humanity can accomplish when we work together in peace."

Whether astronauts are creating 3D-printed objects onboard the orbiting station, holding conversations with a robot, finding new ways to grow food in space or testing holographic glasses , they are working on science that will help them one day travel to distant asteroids and planets, as well as help humans living on Earth.


While there has been a vast amount of scientific work done on the space station, robotics have been a key area of research and work. Several robots are being used on the space station.

Robotics on the space station 
NASA worked with GM to take technology used in a humanoid robot working on the space station to build a robotic glove. Credit: NASA

A humanoid robot, dubbed Robonaut 2, has been tested taking on dull, menial and dirty jobs like cleaning air filters and railings, though scientists hope it will one day take on spacewalks, relieving astronauts from the dangerous job.


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