When has space been a better metaphor for transcending Earth's human conflicts?
The first permanent residency in space began this week with an American and two Russians occupying the International Space Station (ISS). The event is not only historic for scientific exploration and human progress, but also for the long collaboration among 16 nations to build and run this acre-size orbiting complex. The first crew will begin weeks of preparation to create a home for crews from many countries.
And, as visionaries have long predicted, the space station is likely to be only a scene-setter. Lessons learned about human adaptability and scientific enterprise will be applied to missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
But that's getting ahead of the story. A lot of groundwork for the ISS was laid by Russia's Mir space station, now in its fifteenth year in orbit. That Mir has been sustained so long, even as Russia underwent political upheaval, is itself a testament to the allure of space.
Shards of nationalism still cling to space travel. Russia's determination to keep its space program going had a lot to do with national pride. And there are Americans who'd prefer to see the US making its own way in space - and not helping pay for the Russian part of the ISS.
But such critics are inaudible to the three men up there flicking switches and booting up systems on the ISS. For them, and those who'll follow, working together in space is simply a fact of life.
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