The International Space Station Has Been Continuously Inhabited for Ten Years Today

Today marks the 10th anniversary of human habitation at the International Space Station, meaning that as of this week, humans have been living in space for more than two decades. That's a pretty impressive statement when you think about it.

The ISS has been continuously lived in since Nov. 2, 2000, when Expedition 1 commander Bill Shepherd and flight engineers Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko became the first residents. Since then, 200 explorers have visited, 15 nations have contributed modules and hardware, and more than 600 experiments have been conducted, according to NASA.

The ISS is by far the biggest man-made satellite to ever orbit Earth; it is easily seen with the naked eye, and its solar panels can be seen through an amateur telescope.

Last week, the ISS finally surpassed the former Soviet Union and then Russian space station Mir as the longest lived-in station. Mir was occupied for a total of 3,641 days, from Sept. 8, 1989 to Aug. 28, 1999, according to Roscosmos. A 15-month gap separated the end of space station Mir and the beginning of the ISS — were it not for that window, humans would have lived continuously in space since the first Bush administration.

The first space station, the US' Skylab, didn't last long — it was in Earth's orbit from 1973 to 1979 and it was visited by crews just three times, in 1973 and 1974. Skylab was plagued with problems from the beginning; it was heavily damaged during launch, losing its micrometeoroid shield and one of its main solar panels. The US planned to launch a new station, Freedom, in the 1980s, but budget constraints nearly killed it. After the Soviet Union fell, President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed to cooperate in space, and the ISS was born. It's a compendium of five space agencies: NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Astronauts aboard the station are continually conducting experiments in several fields, including the effects of weightlessness on plants and animals; how fluids and materials behave in microgravity; and the long-term health effects of living in space.

But the ISS' greatest achievements may be yet to come. In February, astronauts will install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-02, designed to detect dark matter and uncover the secrets of the origins of the universe. The station is built to last through 2020, and beyond that, its future is anyone's guess — it could be turned into a a base camp for expeditions to the moon or Mars, crew quarters for an asteroid mission, or it could become a huge piece of space junk.

In honor of 10 years, here are some of the ISS' greatest hits and our fondest memories of our peaceful outpost in space.

ISS From Endeavour

After the space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry, astronauts on the ISS inspect every visiting space shuttle for damage. Shuttles do a backflip as ISS residents take pictures, looking for chips in the heat shield. The shuttle astronauts carry cameras, too, and they've snapped some beautiful shots of the station over the years.NASA

Window on the World

The best view in the house, without a doubt. Spacewalking astronauts installed the new cupola in February 2010, adding a homey feel to the orbiting outpost.Soichi Noguchi

Twitpics From Space

Not only did Soichi Noguchi get to live in space, he got to take an 800 mm Nikkor camera lens with him. After the ISS got the Internet, he started posting Twitpics from space, earning a loyal following (and our enduring admiration). Here's a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.Soichi Noguchi

Space Sushi

First Soichi Noguchi awed us with his Twitpics; then he kept us entertained by preparing space sushi. Here is with some floating maki. We think Astro Soichi would have made a great roommate.NASA

Drinking Their Own Urine

Aren't you glad we told you about the sushi first? Of all the discomforts of living in space, this one makes us gag the most. To conserve resources, the ISS is equipped with a $250 million water recovery system that converts urine and sweat into drinkable water.NASA

Colbert Treadmill

Fans of bona fide space nerd Stephen Colbert bombed a NASA-sponsored contest to name a new space station node, and the TV host won. Sorry, NASA said, and renamed Node 3 "Tranquility." But NASA's acronym wizards helped the space agency win a public relations coup by naming a treadmill after him instead. They called it the "Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill" — that's C-O-L-B-E-R-T.NASA

Robonaut 2

After the Columbia accident, the station crew dropped to two, but nowadays it's around six. Still, it's lonely out in space, so NASA has a habit of anthropomorphizing its robot helpers. The station's arm, for instance, is named Dextre. Here we see Robonaut 2, who will be delivered to the ISS after space shuttle Discovery's launch Nov. 3. He is being carried to space in his SLEEPR -- the Structural Launch Enclosure to Effectively Protect Robonaut.NASA

Fixing the Pump

The ISS is a complex piece of machinery, and sometimes things break. In August, the station's cooling pump went on the fritz, spewing ammonia into space. In a seven-and-a-half-hour spacewalk, astronauts Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson managed to unhook the ammonia line and pry off the broken pump with a grapple bar.NASA

Aurora from ISS

The ISS is designed to study life in space, but it's also a great place to learn about Earth. Astronauts get a unique view of phenomena like hurricanes, tsunamis and even this year's earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. This photo shows a rare aurora australis over the Southern Indian Ocean, likely caused by a coronal mass ejection in April. Even after 20 years of life in space, Earth is our priority.NASA