Space Stations are a type of spacecraft that are created to support living human crews for extended periods.
Ever since the birth of space exploration, there have been 12 space stations launched into orbit around earth.
As of the time, this article was written, there are only two space stations with life support systems left in orbit – the first and oldest is the aptly named International Space Station, and the second is the newer Tiangong Space Station launched by the China Manned Space Agency in 2021.
With the number of space stations that have existed since 1971, you might be wondering about some of the people who have lived there.
How many people have been to space?
What is life like in a space station? How long, exactly, is a human able to live in a space station?
If you want to know more – then this is the article for you!
We’ve created a short exploration of some of the humans who have lived in space for the longest, as well as some information as to what living on a space station really means.
We’ve also included a short FAQ section to explain some of the more technical questions you might have.
Humans In Space Stations
The first-ever space station was Salyut 1. If you go looking for it now you’re likely to find only grainy pictures that give a small idea of what it was like.
It was the first space station ever launched into orbit and it was launched by the Soviet Union on the 19th of April 1971.
You might think that the first humans were likely to have gone up to space on this station – but in reality, the first person in space predates Salyut 1 by 10 years.
Strapped into the Vostok 1 capsule, cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first man to venture into outer space.
The tiny space capsule he was in blasted off into outer space and Yuri was able to get back by parachuting out and floating down to earth.
The Vostok 1 capsule was created to exist for a short time in space – in other words, it had no long-term life support systems. Salyut 1, however, was created to test the boundaries of how long a person could live in space.
Although it was only launched for a short period of time, the design seeds sown by the creation of the small station can be seen today in our modern versions.
Salyut was made up of a large section at the back, and a smaller section at the front and was only around 66 feet in length.
To put in perspective how tiny this first space station was when compared to what we have today – the International Space Station is over 239 feet in length.
From this, you can imagine the tiny space in which the original residents of Salyut 1 versus what modern astronauts have today.
The Longest A Human Has Lived In A Space Station
Since Salyut 1, there have been remarkable advances in technology, as well as incredible space adventures which have given us a lot of knowledge about how humans can live in space.
There are many spaceflight records that have been set since our first steps into space, but when we’re looking at who has lived the longest in space there is one man who stands apart – Valeri Polyakov.
Valeri Polyakov is a Russian cosmonaut who holds the record for the longest single stay in space.
His first flight was in 1988 where he traveled in the Soyuz TM-6 to reach the soviet space station known as Mir. This first stay was not record-breaking because he only stayed for 240 days.
It was his second flight and stay that has placed him in the record books. Polyakov spent 437 days in space Mir Space Station.
One of the main reasons for this long stay was to learn how the human body would cope in a low gravity environment.
At the time, Polyakov also had the record for the longest time spent in space (not in a single stay) though this has since been broken by modern cosmonauts.
How Long Could A Human Live In The International Space Station?
One thing you’ll notice about space stations is that cosmonauts are constantly rotating and changing their crews. For example, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied since November 2000.
This has been achieved with 244 cosmonauts. Generally, 7 people crew the ISS for a period of time, though there can be more during a handover – where new cosmonauts are added or old cosmonauts come back to earth.
As to the question of how long a human could survive in a modern station such as the International Space Station – this isn’t something we know the exact answer to. What we do know is the dangers of staying in space for too long.
The human body was not built to function properly in low gravity conditions. Space is not an easy place to live for this reason.
For example, our muscles are used to working under the tough gravity of the earth. Because there is almost no gravity on the International Space Station, muscles are likely to shrink. Cosmonauts are likely to lose much of their muscle mass by the time they return to earth.
Another very important thing to keep in mind is the risk of different kinds of radiation.
There are many kinds of radiation we can be exposed to on earth, but cosmonauts have a much larger risk factor in space.
Radiations such as galactic cosmic, solar cosmic, and solar radiation can cause bad cell mutation which can cause a variety of health defects to cosmonauts.
All of this means that space is dangerous. You wouldn’t want a cosmonaut to stay much longer than they have to.
Valeri Polyakov’s long stay is not something that is likely to be repeated without good reason.
A more common stay aboard the International Space Station is six months. After this, cosmonauts are brought back to earth so that their bodies can rebuild and recover.
We hope this has given you some insight into how long a human can live in a space station.
It’s important to note that we haven’t left a cosmonaut out in a space station long enough to know the true time in which they’d be able to survive in, but we make sure to bring them back before any lasting damage can be done.
Let’s hope for all future cosmonauts that they can return home after 6 months and that they can enjoy long and healthy lives or many other space flights after!
What Was The Mir Space Station?
Mir was a Soviet Union space station that was launched into low earth orbit in 1986 and ended in 2001.
At the time, it was the largest artificial satellite ever in orbit, though this has been topped by the International Space Station. Mir was used for many things including experiments in physics and biology.
What Is Low Earth Orbit?
A low earth orbit is an orbit that is close to the earth’s surface. It is usually less than 1000km in altitude.
It’s important to note that most satellites are launched in a low earth orbit as it is safer and they are easier to retrieve if ever needed.
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