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Humans reach new milestone: 20 years of living in space

Posted at 4:20 PM, Nov 10, 2020

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. – About 250 miles above earth, the International Space Station remains in constant orbit around the planet.

“It's an amazing facility,” said retired NASA astronaut Rex Walheim. “It's about the size of a five-bedroom house.”

It’s an incredible feat of construction, involving space agencies from multiple countries and astronauts like Walheim, who flew three missions to the International Space Station.

“The first portion of the space station program was basically constructing it,” Walheim said. “So, that was what I was most involved with, bringing pieces of the space station, doing spacewalks to bolt new pieces on and to activate them.”

In the now 20 years since the space station welcomed the first crew, it’s become a place of valuable research for companies like Techshot.

“The people that make the experimental instruments that go in there are people like Techshot,” said Dave Reed of Techshot.

We visited Techshot’s facility near the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

Their work on the space station includes measuring bone loss, for use in developing treatments for osteoporosis.

“Understanding osteoporosis is obviously of great interest to people on earth,” Reed said. “So, drug companies have been a lot of our customers.”

Techshot also created a “bio fabrication facility,” which was installed on the space station.

Using stem cells, the machine can 3D print human cartilage, a process that works best in a zero-gravity space environment. The idea is to eventually be able to 3D print whole organs that could be used in transplants.

“It’s in the future, but it’s not as far away as you might think,” Reed said.

Among the other things the space station astronauts have helped develop for use here on earth are advanced water purification systems, where they recycle 93% of the water on the station. Astronauts on board have also collected valuable data, like visual images, to help support first responders to natural disasters in the U.S. and around the world.

Those are advances that might not be possible without the space station.

“Young people today have never known a time when there hasn't been humans in space,” Walheim said. “That's really amazing.”

It’s a whole generation who see humans living and working in space as an everyday part of life.