Space Station Expansion … and Repairs

Five years ago today — October 23, 2007 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.


(Astronaut Parazynski approaching the damaged P6 solar array. NASA image.)

The mission STS-120 crew — Pamela A. Melroy, Daniel M. Tani,, George D. Zamka, Douglas H. Wheelock, Scott E. Parazynski, Stephanie D. Wilson, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli — spent a little over two weeks in space, and installed the connecting module called Harmony on the ISS. The new node, named by schoolchildren in a contest, would make it possible for the European Columbus and the Japanese Kibo laboratories to be connected to the ISS on future missions.

When STS-120 docked with the ISS, it marked the first time two women — Pamela Melroy on the shuttle, and Peggy Whitson of ISS Expedition 16 — commanded the two spacecraft at the same time. The mission also involved impromptu repair work: one of the solar arrays on the ISS’s P6 truss, which had been folded while the truss was moved to a new location, snagged on a guide wire when they were unfolded. Mission controllers and the crew were able to plan and execute the repair before the orbiter returned to Earth.

Read more details of this mission in this comprehensive mission overview.

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International Science in Space History

Twenty years ago today — October 22, 1992 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on an international science mission.


(LAGEOS-II deployment from STS-52. NASA image.)

STS-52 carried a six-member crew: James D. Wetherbee, Michael A. Baker, Charles L. Veach, William M. Shepherd, Tamara E. Jernigan, and Canadian astronaut Steven G. MacLean. They deployed the joint U.S.-Italian Laser Geodynamic Satellite II (LAGEOS II) — second in a series of laser-ranging target satellites* — and conducted a variety of internationally-sponsored materials science experiments.

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LAGEOS I had been launched in 1976.

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A Week's Worth of Space History

I’ll be on the road for a few days, and I’m not sure how the connectivity will be, and I wasn’t forward-thinking enough to front-load a bunch of space history items for automatic posting, so … here are a few different space history items that you can enjoy* all at once.

One hundred thirty years ago today — October 5, 1882 — Robert H. Goddard, the father of modern liquid-fueled rocketry, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Twenty years ago tomorrow — October 6, 1992 — the joint Swedish-German Freja mission to study the aurora was launched on a Chinese Long March rocket out of Jiuquan. (It was launched along with the PRC 36 mission.)

Ten years ago Sunday — October 7, 2002 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew of STS-112 consisted of U.S. astronauts Sandra H. Magnus, David A. Wolf, Pamela A. Melroy, Jeffrey S. Ashby, and Piers J. Sellers, along with cosmonaut Fyodor N. Yurchikhin. They delivered and installed a new truss as part of the station’s structural support system.


(The International Space Station, taken from STS-112. NASA image.)

And finally, let’s note two other space station-related launches in this compendium:

  • On October 9, 1977 — 35 years ago — the Soviet Union launched Soyuz-25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying Vladimir V.Kovalyonok and Valeri V.Ryumin to their Salyut-6 station. The docking maneuver failed, however, and the cosmonauts returned early. Cosmonauts:.
  • On October 10, 2007 — 5 years ago — Soyuz TMA-11 launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying a Russian,Yuri I. Malenchenko; American Peggy A. Whitson; and a Malaysian, Shukor A. Muszaphar, to the ISS.

Have a great week!

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*Or ignore.

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Space History Double Shot: a Lost Observer and a Space Station Transfer

Twenty years ago today — September 25, 1992 — a Titan-III rocket out of Cape Canaveral launched the Mars Observer. The launch was uneventful and the spacecraft’s journey to Mars was nominal until three days before it was scheduled to enter orbit — August 21, 1993 — when controllers lost contact with the spacecraft.


(Mars Observer conceptual painting. NASA image.)

Mars Observer was primarily designed to study the Martian atmosphere, but it never got the chance, and unless we find the spacecraft someday and examine it we only have educated guesses:

It is not known whether the spacecraft was able to follow its automatic programming and go into Mars orbit or if it flew by Mars and is now in a heliocentric orbit. Later investigation concluded the most probable cause of the mishap was a fuel line rupture during fuel tank pressurization which would have caused the spacecraft to spin uncontrollably.

On a much more successful note, on this date 15 years ago — September 25, 1997 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the Mir space station.

STS-86 was the seventh Shuttle-Mir docking mission. Its crew consisted of U.S. astronauts James D. Wetherbee, Michael J. Bloomfield, Scott E. Parazynski, Wendy B. Lawrence, and David A. Wolf; French astronaut Jean-Loup J.M. Chrétien; and Russian cosmonaut Vladimir G. Titov. Wolf replaced Michael Foale aboard Mir, and Foale returned to Earth on Atlantis.

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Onward in the 'Greatest Adventure on which Man has ever Embarked'

Twenty years ago today — September 12, 1992 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on a joint U.S.-Japanese scientific mission that featured several space firsts.


(STS-47 in-flight crew portrait, aboard Spacelab-J. NASA image.)

The STS-47 crew consisted of U.S. astronauts Robert L. “Hoot” Gibson, Curtis L. Brown, Jr., Mark C. Lee, Jerome “Jay” Apt, N. Jan Davis, and Mae C. Jemison, plus Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri. The “firsts” on this mission included:

  • Jemison was the first Black woman in space.
  • Mohri was the first Japanese astronaut to fly on a Space Shuttle.
  • Lee and Davis were the first married couple to fly a space mission together.

The crew conducted 44 different science experiments aboard the Spacelab-J laboratory, of which 35 were sponsored by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). Seven were NASA experiments, and the last two were NASA-NASDA collaborations.

Materials science investigations covered such fields as biotechnology, electronic materials, fluid dynamics and transport phenomena, glasses and ceramics, metals and alloys, and acceleration measurements. Life sciences included experiments on human health, cell separation and biology, developmental biology, animal and human physiology and behavior, space radiation, and biological rhythms. Test subjects included the crew, Japanese koi fish (carp), cultured animal and plant cells, chicken embryos, fruit flies, fungi and plant seeds, and frogs and frog eggs.

Now, just because it’s cool, a look at the “Southern Lights” that the crew took from orbit:


(Aurora Australis, as seen from orbit aboard STS-47. NASA image.)

It’s also cool that this launch happened on the 30th anniversary of President Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University — 50 years ago now, on September 12, 1962 — in which he said,

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

President Kennedy closed his speech by saying,

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

I hope we never stop pressing on in that “greatest adventure.”

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A Shuttle Flight More Than Two Decades in the Making

Five years ago today — August 8, 2007 — the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from Kennedy Space Center on an International Space Station construction mission.


(Mission specialist Barbara Morgan on the shuttle’s middeck during STS-118. NASA image.)

On mission STS-118, U.S. astronauts Scott J. Kelly, Charles O. Hobaugh, Richard A. Mastracchio, Barbara R. Morgan, Tracy E. Caldwell, and Benjamin Alvin Drew, along with Canadian astronaut Dafydd (Dave) Williams, delivered and installed a new truss segment to the ISS. They also replaced a failed control moment gyro — part of the attitude control system that keeps the station in the correct orientation — and transferred supplies for the station residents.

Astronaut Morgan was originally Christa McAuliffe’s back-up for the STS-51L mission that ended when the Challenger was destroyed. The June 2007 mission overview for STS-118 explained,

Morgan trained side by side with McAuliffe and witnessed the 1986 Challenger accident in which McAuliffe and her six fellow crew members died. The Teacher in Space Project was suspended then, but Morgan held on to her NASA ties. In the months following that tragedy, she went on the visits McAuliffe would have made, talking to children and teachers all over the country. Then, when she was selected in 1998 to become a full-fledged astronaut, she jumped at the opportunity.

In 2002, Morgan was chosen as the first educator to become a mission specialist astronaut. The Educator Astronaut Project evolved from the Teacher in Space Project. Both aimed to engage and attract students to explore the excitement and wonder of spaceflight and to inspire and support educators. Morgan’s primary duty is the same as it is for the entire crew — accomplish the planned objectives of the station assembly mission.

She had been selected as the Teacher in Space backup candidate in July 1985, and so waited 22 years for her space mission. No wonder she looks happy, though it must have been somewhat bittersweet.

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Mission to Planet Earth

Fifteen years ago today — August 7, 1997 — the Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a mission to study the Earth’s atomosphere from space.


(Discovery‘s payload bay, outfitted with experimental packages for STS-85. NASA image.)

Astronauts Curtis L. Brown, Jr., Kent V. Rominger, N. Jan Davis, Robert L. Curbeam, Jr., Stephen K. Robinson, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Bjarni Y.Tryggvason made up the crew of mission STS-85. Their mission was the second to carry the Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere, Shuttle Pallet Satellite (with the unwieldy acronym CRISTA-SPAS) as part of the “Mission to Planet Earth.” They deployed the pallet shortly after reaching orbit, and retrieved it on August 16th.

STS-85 also carried the Japanese Manipulator Flight Development (MFD) system; two “hitchhiker” payloads, Technology Applications and Science-01 (TAS-1) and the International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker-02 (IEH-02), and a variety of smaller experiment packages in the main cabin. The crew “also worked with the Orbiter Space Vision System (OSVS), which [was] used during ISS assembly.” They returned to Earth on August 19th.

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Testing Tethers in Space History

Twenty years ago today — July 31, 1992 — the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on an international science mission.


(Tethered Satellite System. The tether itself is partly in shadow in this NASA image.)

STS-46 included U.S. astronauts Loren J. Shriver, Andrew M. Allen, Marsha S. Ivins, Jeffrey A. Hoffman and Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, and Italian astronaut Franco Malerba.

Though technical problems delayed operations, the crew successfully deployed the European Space Agency’s European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA), an experiment-filled platform that stayed in orbit almost a year before being retrieved by the shuttle Endeavour. The Tethered Satellite System (TSS), a joint NASA/Italian Space Agency venture to test the behavior of tethers in space, did not deploy as planned; however, as a test, it proved that extending tethers in space is a more difficult and delicate task than anticipated.

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Microgravity Science Lab Flies Again (Second Time's the Charm)

Fifteen years ago today — July 1, 1997 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center carrying the Microgravity Science Laboratory (MSL).


(STS-94 launch. NASA image.)

Mission STS-94 was a “reflight” of the original MSL mission, STS-83, which launched three months earlier but ended early because of a fuel cell problem aboard Columbia. STS-94 marked the first time a shuttle mission was reflown with the same payload, same orbiter, and even the same crew. On this MSL mission — the 2nd time around — astronauts James D. Halsell, Susan L. Still, Janice E. Voss, Donald A. Thomas, Michael L. Gernhardt, Roger K. Crouch, and Gregory T. Linteris conducted a wide variety of experiments (“25 primary experiments, four glovebox investigations and four accelerometer studies”) during their 15 days in space.

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Last Shuttle Shakedown Flight

Thirty years ago today — June 27, 1982 — the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the final R&D flight for the shuttle fleet.


(President Reagan welcomed the STS-4 crew back from space. NASA image from Wikimedia Commons.)

On mission STS-4, astronauts Thomas K. “Ken” Mattingly and Henry W. “Hank” Hartsfield conducted a number of experiments in addition to refining shuttle operating procedures. The mission also carried a classified payload for the Department of Defense.

Mattingly and Hartsfield landed the shuttle on July 4th at Edwards AFB, where they were greeted by President and Mrs. Reagan.

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