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Humanity marks 20 years in Earth orbit, sets sight on moon

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Jeff Tyson

Nov. 2 marks 20 years since humans have been living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) — 20 years of continuously living in Earth orbit, deepening our understanding of space and our own planet.


Mason Peck

Professor of astronautical engineering

Mason Peck is a professor of astronautical engineering at Cornell University and from 2011 to 2013 served as NASA Chief Technologist. Peck says 20 years of continuous human presence on ISS has equipped humanity with lessons it can take to the moon — where NASA and partners aim to establish a sustainable presence. And he predicts we’ll be celebrating another milestone by mid-century: 20 years of humanity on the lunar surface.

Peck says:

“As a boy, my grandfather saw the very first airplanes. Before he passed away, we watched the first space shuttle launch together. Humanity has come far in a short time — in less than a human lifespan, we've become a spacefaring species.  

“Now, thanks to the lessons we've learned from 20 years' continuous presence on ISS, we're ready to extend our reach to the moon. Our reach should exceed our grasp, but only persistent innovation at universities like ours gives us the hope that we can achieve these audacious goals. Thanks to government investment in our nation's innovation infrastructure, I expect we'll be celebrating 20 years of continuous presence on the moon by the middle of this century.

“Fundamental research in space technology is essential if we're to maintain this pace of exploration. Only by innovating new and better ways to explore can humanity wade deeper into that cosmic ocean, as Carl Sagan called it.” 

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