Earth’s orbit has never been so crowded.
The launch of SpaceX Inspiration4 Last night’s mission (September 15) brought the population of the Last Frontier to 14, one more than the previous record.
These 14 people live aboard three different spaceships. The Inspiration4 crew – Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski – zooms around Earth in a SpaceX Crew dragon capsule.
Meanwhile, the International space station currently accommodates seven people: NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei; Russian cosmonauts Piotr Dubrovnik and Oleg Novitskiy; the Japanese Akihiko Hoshide; and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency. And Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo live aboard Tianhe, the central module of the future Chinese space station Tiangong.
“Good luck to the Inspiration 4 team!” Vande Hei wrote on Twitter before the launch of SpaceX. “Private astronaut missions are part of the plan to help NASA meet its future needs. These missions allow a strong market in low Earth orbit, a market for which NASA will be one of the many customers. Come on, Inspiration! Go on ! “
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However, the ranks of spaceflyers will soon thin out. Inspiration4 will return to Earth on Saturday (September 18) and Nie, Liu and Tang’s Shenzhou 12 mission would end early Friday morning (September 17). (Darkness around Shenzhou 12 is the norm, as China does not release many details of its manned flight plans in advance.)
Nie, Liu and Tang arrived in Tianhe on June 17th. They have therefore lived in orbit for three months, roughly three times longer than any other Chinese manned mission has been in the air.
The previous record of 13 simultaneous space flights has been set several times. In March 1995, for example, seven astronauts orbiting Earth aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavor while six people did the same on the Russian Mir space station. And in March 2009, the International Space Station briefly hosted 13 crew on its own.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.