Leaving Earth behind

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The International Space Station may not inspire everyone with awe, but it has kept humanity consistently in space at all times for just over 9 years. NASA photo
I inadvertently let an anniversary slip by a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a major one (I’m not sleeping on the couch), but it was nifty enough that I wish I could have celebrated appropriately.

I refer, of course, to the ninth anniversary of the last day every human being was on Earth. On October 31, 2000, the first resident crew of the International Space Station (ISS) launched, and ever since at least two people have been in space at all times. It doesn’t quite break the continuously-off-the-Earth record (currently standing at 10 years, from 1989-1999, thanks to Russia’s Mir space station), but 9 years is still pretty impressive.

Just think: just more than 9 years ago might be the last time ever that all of humanity was located on a single planet. Sure, it’s not like the astronauts and cosmonauts traveled very far, and the ISS crew certainly can’t survive independently of Earth, but it’s still a first step for proving our species might not be tied to this planet forever.

To me, celebrating the last day of earthbound humanity is a little like celebrating Yuri’s Night on April 12, which commemorates Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 seminal flight into space. They both seem a little underwhelming as bases for celebration, until you think about how momentous they really were. In Yuri’s case, living beings possessed the ability to venture out of Earth’s grasp and return safely for the first time in billions of years. That’s just crazy! (Don’t even get me started on how unbelievable it is that there are people walking around who’ve actually set foot on the Moon.) Similarly, the last time all Homo sapiens were ever centrally located is a pretty shocking achievement for a species as fragile as us.

So next year (barring any unforeseen developments), I’ll definitely party for the decentralization of humanity’s big 1-0, and maybe you can join me. Maybe by then I’ll have figured out what an appropriate way to celebrate might be. Or a catchier name for the event.

Have any suggestions for the big party? Or do you think this is much ado about nothing, and mankind’s a long way off from real space travel?

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