By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Astronaut Scott Kelly is back on Earth after a record-setting trip to the International Space Station. After nearly a year in space, Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts landed in Kazakhstan Wednesday night. Their goal was to see how their bodies handled that much time in space.

There are three remaining astronauts on the International Space Station – one American, one Russian and one Brit. Within the next two weeks, another three astronauts will head back up there — leaving the Space Station with its full normal load.

So, how many people have gone to space? Good Question.

Astronaut wings are given to people who’ve gone 60 miles above the Earth’s surface. The International Space Station is about 250 miles away.

“Space is defined as being 100 kilometers or 60 miles above the surface, so anytime you’re above that, you’re in space,” says Ron Schmit, observatory coordinator at Jackson Middle School.

Since the inception of the space program, about 550 people have travelled into space. Slightly less than two-thirds have been Americans.

The vast majority were astronauts with at least two years of training, but there have also been a handful of space tourists between 2001-2009, some scientists, engineers and politicians as well as a half-dozen or so Air Force pilots.

“There have been Air Force pilots that have flown they’re high performance rocket planes above that altitude, so even though they didn’t fly for NASA they got their astronaut wings,” Schmit said.

Since the sixth and final moon landing in 1972, astronauts have not left Earth’s orbit.

“Only twelve people have walked on the moon,” Schmit said. “Of the seven billion people on Earth, that’s it.”

Following the Apollo missions, there were 135 shuttle missions into space, until that program ended in 2011. Now, astronauts only head to space to connect to with the International Space Station, via a ride from the Russians.

The next mission in the works is to explore the space between the Earth and the moon. Following that is a trip to Mars, which is likely fifteen years away. Some commercial trips have been planned, which would be very short visits for lots of money, but none of those have taken off yet.

Heather Brown

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