The ongoing story of spaceflight is deeply inspiring to me: what people have achieved, despite all the unknowns, risks, and losses, and the human and engineering stories behind it, and what it says about our potential.

For example, the idea of a “space station” still feels like science fiction, but we’ve been building them for almost fifty years now:

Graphical history of manned space stations

(click to view full size)

These are just the stations which were successfully put into orbit, and which were occupied by humans for at least part of that time (or still are).

There were other attempts that never reached those goals. There were also failures during the programs shown here: the failure of the first docking with Salyut 1, the death of its first crew on re-entry, the damage to Skylab during launch.

Still, this timeline shows an amazing progress of achievement. With the ISS now having operated for two decades and still going, it shows more than that: a sustained, international cooperation, on something truly difficult, despite all that’s happened in this world over these years between these countries. It’s a reminder of what we can do, when we let ourselves.

(I created the above image using my Mac app TimeStory; if you have it, here’s the file.)