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31st October 2000, an historic date in history ?

November 8, 2013 | Comment icon 0 comments

Image Credit: NASA
There are some historic dates in the history of space exploration. 4th October 1957, the space age begins with the launch of Sputnik 1. 12th April 1961, Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space. 20th July 1969, Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to set foot on another world. These are obviously significant moments, not just in space flight, but in the history of mankind.

So what about 31st October 2000? Why am I suggesting that this date may be as significant?

The 31st October 2000 saw the launch of Soyuz TM-31 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. On board the Soyuz were a US astronaut, Bill Shepherd, and two Russian cosmonauts, Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko.

Just over 8 minutes after launch the Soyuz and its occupants entered low Earth orbit.

On 2nd November 2000 the Soyuz craft docked with the fledgling International Space Station. The Soyuz crew then became Expedition 1, the first long duration mission to the ISS.

All well and good but, I hear you ask, what is so historic about this? What is so special about this flight?
What is potentially significant about this flight is that from the moment that Soyuz TM-31 entered space there has not been a single moment when all of humanity has been on planet Earth. The ISS has been manned permanently ever since. For the last 13 years at least 2 human beings have been in space 24 hours a day every day.

It is impossible to say with certainty that this marks the moment when mankind had a permanent presence in space, an emergency could bring home the current ISS crew tomorrow, but if there are no problems, if the Chinese space station becomes a reality before the ISS reaches the end of it's life and if the Russians build a next generation space station as they currently plan then we may already be 13 years into mankind's permanent occupation of low Earth orbit. Mankind may already have ceased to be an Earth bound species.

In the future, when mankind has spread to other planets in the solar system and then out into the galaxy beyond, then they may look back on the 31st October 2000 as one of the most significant dates in the history of humanity. That date, 13 years ago, may mark the moment when mankind was last rooted to planet Earth, the moment when we truly became a space-faring species.

That moment in time, 13 years ago, may mark the point in our history when we ensured our survival because, if we are to survive long term, we must become a multi-planet species.

If we allow them to be, these first forays into space will mark an evolutionary progression for Earth life on a par with the fish crawling on to land for the first time. Just as life conquered land, we must strive to conquer the cosmos. We may have already begun that process.

The 31st October 2000 may prove to be one of the most significant dates in human history.

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