The International Space Station (ISS) marks its 20th anniversary today.

Since its first inhabitants floated through the hatch on November 2 2000, the ISS has grown from a cramped three room complex to having 12 rooms, six sleeping compartments, a lookout tower and three toilets.

A total of 241 visitors from 19 countries have set foot on the ISS since the first crew – American Bill Shepherd and Russians Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko – blasted off from Kazakhstan on Oct. 31, 2000.

The ISS is as long as a football field, containing eight miles (13 kilometres) of electrical wiring, an acre of solar panels and three high-tech labs. It takes just 90 minutes for the ISS to circle the Earth, allowing astronauts to enjoy the amazing views of 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day. Astronauts spend most of their six-month stints these days keeping the space station running and performing science experiments.

First job – turn on the lights

First crew member retired NASA astronaut Bill Shepherd, now 71, said the first task for the ISS’ first residents once arriving at the darkened space station on Nov. 2, 2000 – like any new home – was turn on the lights. Krikalev recalled the switch on as “very memorable.” After switching on the lights, they heated water for hot drinks and activated the single toilet.

“Now we can live,” Gidzenko remembers Shepherd saying. “We have lights, we have hot water and we have toilet.”

While the first crew had sporadic radio contact with the ground with communication blackouts lasting for hours, today’s astronauts now have near-continuous communication with flight controllers and even an internet phone for personal use.

Just like the first inhabitants of the ISS, the current crew is an American Kate Rubins and two Russians, Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov. They plan to mark the milestone by sharing a special dinner.

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