When the first International Space Station (ISS) crew lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome early on Oct. 31, 2000, a lot of us watching the Soyuz rocket climb through a thick overcast wondered if we were witnessing history, or just the start of another human spaceflight mission with a beginning and eventual end date. So far, it has been history. At least two humans at a time have been living and working off the planet since Soyuz TM-31 lifted off with cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko, Sergei Krikalev and astronaut William Shepherd that chilly morning. Conceivably, a human presence in space could be permanent.
When Expedition 1 docked, the ISS was a lot smaller and simpler than the orbiting outpost where the six members of Expedition 38 hang their helmets today. It consisted of Russia's Zarya and Zvezda modules and the U.S. Unity node (see photo). And there were only three ways to get there—on Russia's Soyuz and Progress capsules, for crew and cargo respectively, and on NASA's space shuttle—all of them government owned and operated.
Today the station has 15 pressurized modules, with more on the way from Russia and Bigelow Aerospace, and four massive solar-array wings that would have dwarfed the original pressurized configuration. The surviving shuttles are in museums, but there is now so much traffic to and from the ISS that scheduling has become problematic. Russia still delivers crews with Soyuz capsules, and cargo with Progress vehicles. Europe and Japan have their respective ATV and HTV robotic cargo carriers on the manifest. But most of the cargo deliveries next year will come via a new class of vehicles that were barely a gleam in an engineer's eye when Gidzenko, Krikalev and Shepherd climbed aboard the station.